Monday, July 29, 2013

BLOWN OFF COURSE


I need to stray off course once in a while in order to address some topics that are of interest to my blog members.( Not all followers and subscribers are focused on my writing career?) Many readers find my blog while searching for Panama information.  Perhaps the following post may be of some interest.

PANAMA PERTINATE

Many of my seasoned years have been spent in  a variety of tropical climates; Panama, Guam, Costa Rica, Mexico, SE Asia, & Panama, again.

What draws me to the tropics?  I’m not sure.  It certainly is different than being a cowboy.  Perhaps it’s the adventure. Perhaps it’s my rendition of being Jimmy Buffet – cheeseburger in paradise -- author in the tropics… I know one thing for sure. One has to adapt or you will go nuts. I’ve learned many lessons the hard way over the years.  It’s time I pass along a bit of this knowledge. 

TROPICAL ICE CAN KILL YOU!

One of the lessons I learned from my father about visiting strange countries was to beware of the water.

People forget that ice is made from water; sometimes contaminated water in a 3rd world nation or South Tucson, Houston, or LA & LA (Louisiana)

My father always carried a pouch of chrome ball bearings ½” to 1” in size.  He’d place the pouch in the refrigerator and freeze the metal. He later changed from the ball bearings to the Panamanian silver dollar (silver Balboa’s) when we lived in the Canal Zone of Panama. Any time we ventured out of the Canal Zone, he used the frozen coins to cool our drinks.  I’ve always used the coin trick.  I have a jar full of Panamanian dollars (the current Balboa) that are frozen in the freezer.  When we have water outages, (which is often in the rainy season) I revert to the coins rather than the cubes. 
 

The first thing that is necessary is to ‘launder your money’ ha!  Sterilize by boiling.  Freeze and repeat after using. It just takes a few minutes to have peace of mind. When I take a trip I place the clean coins in the mini-bar refers in the hotel rooms; again, peace of mind. – cool drinks without the fear of bad ice.
 

One question you are asking.  What about a restaurant or a bar?

The answer is simple.  Order bottled whatever.  If you need a drink – take it neat; never with water or ice.  Even Everclear, the 200 proof booze of yesteryear, will not kill all the bacteria in some water.  Don’t be stupid -- why take a chance?

All the water in my house has been ozonated and stored in glass jugs.  That’s my drinking water.  I do not put ozonated water into the ice cube trays.  They are plastic. Ozonated anything & plastic does not mix. I do not trust plastic.  I avoid plastic like the bubonic plague.  I refuse to eat or drink from plastic. PERIOD! Most plastic products come from China and all of us here in Panama know about their QC. (diethylene glycol poisonings) 

INSECTS AND CLEANLINESS

I do all of my own cooking so I like a clean kitchen.  I mean clean – not some passable kitchen with hoards of ants and cockroaches.  I detest insects and they don’t like me so much, either.  Those SOB’s don’t pay rent or contribute to the food budget and they usually bite me. So my policy – if insects come into my house they die!

All of my windows and doors are screened.  (Screens on doors to keep insects outside are a concept not yet embraced in Panama).   The locals haven’t grasped the understanding that a mosquito packing Dengue Fever in its stinger can kill just as sure as a drug dealer’s drive-by bullet. Besides, here in Chiriquí, it’s more likely.

Ants and cockroaches are not kept out by screens.  At one time I had millions of those sugar ants.  Leave a crumb of bread or a drop of syrup on the counter and within minutes the counter was swarmed with the freeloaders.

I recalled from my time in the Canal Zone that my folks used sugar and borax to reduce the presence of ants.  I tried mixing boric acid with the sugar.  The ants would swarm the mixture.  Perhaps some of them died – no way to tell.  But the humidity would cause the powder to cake and become ineffective.  So I decided try something a bit more extreme.  I placed a package of boric acid (one ounce) into a quart mason jar along with ½ cup of sugar.  I poured boiling water into the jar and stirred it thoroughly to make sure it was totally dissolved. Then I took cotton balls (used for ladies make-up removal) and dropped them into the jar.  They absorbed the liquid. I placed them on jar lids all around the house.  I went outside and tossed the soaked cotton balls on my front and back porches.  I even put some in the trunk of my car and out by the laundry tub.  I placed some of the cotton balls next to my computers.  PRESTO! Three days later, no more ants.  Nada, none, zip! I believe this system killed all the cockroaches, too.  I haven’t seen one or any sign of them for months.

LEATHER, IRON, AND ELECTRONICS

No, we’re not discussing the 50 shades of grey; we’re preventing 50 shades of mold, mildew, and rust.  Back in the day; in the ZONE, every house had a ‘hot closet’.  A closet with a heating element to keep the closet dry and reduce the mold and mildew that attacks leather in humid climes.  In the tropics if it’s metal it will rust.  If it’s leather it will mildew.  Placing items in the hot locker assists in reducing rust but doesn’t do any more than prolong the process.  If you use it often and care for the tool or item; chances are it doesn’t belong in the hot locker.  My dad’s old 35mm camera has a leather case and a steel body.  It remains in the ‘locker’ unless it’s being used.

Most of the homes I’ve seen here in Panama do not have the proper wiring for a ‘hot locker’.  Zonian houses had a light socket in the bottom of the closet and a short heating element screwed into the socket instead of a light bulb. I didn’t want to go through the trouble of rewiring the closets so I use a ‘trouble light’ with an incandescent bulb (15 watt).  It creates just enough heat to create a dry environment and keeps my electric bill manageable. 

BACK TO THOSE PESKY INSECTS

I tried those ‘mosquito traps’ made from plastic water or soda bottles.  They work okay but they needed to be recharged too often (2 or 3 times a week). Also I still had mosquitoes so I decided to try something different.  The clear bottles are less effective than a dark bottle. I’ve discovered a modification that works better. (I tried spray painting a clear bottle – don’t do it!  Gad, what a mess!)  I took the brown bottle used in hydrogen peroxide and cut it in half.  I turned the cap side down and taped the unit together.  I poured a couple of tablespoons full of the ‘bait’ -- warm water, sugar, and baker’s yeast. I use this to recharge the unit every Saturday.  I keep the trap in my shower because mosquitoes seem to be drawn to the small room which is ‘dark and snaky’ most of the time.

Another treatment of the plastic bottle cut-in-half is my ‘herb garden.’  I use it to create a small hydroponic environment. “Do you like Herbs?  He likes yours!”
 

I’ve just started this program and as you can see by the photo; not many plants.  Only cilantro and ‘palm’ for heart of palm – in a few weeks.

I mounted my herb garden (using the coke case) on the retaining wall outside my back door. It gets the sun and rain but it’s out of the way when my yard is mowed.  I can water it easily with a hose during the dry season.

Another application of the ‘plastic bottle’ is to use just the top – the cap part.  Use a plastic bag and WALA!

 
You have a container with a top for virtually no cost. These work much better with liquids than a ‘zip lock’ style.  Besides, it recycles. I use them also for portion control on my pancake/waffle dry mix. 


Fruits and vegetables all get a bath in my house.  Not a soap and water bath but a Hydrogen peroxide rinse before preparation or cooking. I place 2 caps (1 1/2 tbsp) of hydrogen peroxide into a sink full of water. All the fruit and vegetables get rinsed to remove any pesticides or toxins.
 

I use Hydrogen Peroxide a lot. (It’s cheap)  Mix it with baking soda and it makes an excellent cleaner for all metals. I gargle with it, disinfect my cutting boards and counter tops, wash my food, and even use medicinally once in a while.

I use the cardboard of an empty milk carton for a cutting surface when preparing vegetables and some meats.  I save the empties and break them down so they’re easy to store.  I often cut vegetables and fruits on the waxed surface of the carton.  One can chop veggies or chicken or fish and then pitch the entire unit.  It saves having to sterilize the cutting board each time it’s used (which is recommended)

FOOD PRESEVATION

These last few photos are results of me canning my food and baking my own bread.  I’m not comfortable ingesting copious amount of sodium and salt; ingredients found in most canned or packaged food from the super markets.

I’m lazy.  I like the ‘dump and stir’ method of cooking. I spend 4 – 5 hours one day a month to preserve (can) my meats.  I use my pressure cooker, pint jars and preserve enough for an entire month. 

None of these jars of meat need to refrigerated until they are opened (the seal is broken).

I have a friend that visits once a week; brings her jars and prepares enough canned meat for her and her boyfriend for a week. (They don’t have a refrigerator – very common down here.)
 
I have a bread machine and usually bake bread twice a week. During the rainy season I bake in my oven using my cast iron or outside in a hole in the yard.  (More on that technique – later.)

I cook rice, beans, oatmeal, and pasta in my pressure cooker.  I use a stainless steel bowl for my cooking (like a double boiler) so I don’t cook in aluminum. It floats in the water of the pressure cooker.  It takes a while longer but it’s worth the peace of mind.

There enough adventures here in the tropics. We don’t need t be constantly concerned about what we eat and drink.  I hope you have found these ideas helpful. More later…

I’d like to see some comments.  Is anyone reading these posts???? 


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