Thursday, December 20, 2012

Coq Au Vin

December 20, 2012

Okay, so it’s 8:30 EST PM Thursday night before we’re hit by a big asteroid (or something otherwise dire) sometime after midnight.
So…..Todd and I are fixing a nice late-night steak dinner, before heading down to beach afterwards to watch the UFO’s land.
We think the first “take us to your leader” representative may be disguised as one of these: (SEE PHOTO AT TOP LEFT, taken by Todd one day when he spotted this guy scouting out the territory, as he was coming in our front door).
We actually like these guys better than the ones that look like chickens/roosters (LOUD MF’s) especially the ones that keep trying to keep coming in, and pecking & pooping in our living room.  Our dog Daisy could do a better job of keeping them out, but we’re all pretty glad she wisely gives them wide berth.
Live chickens are currency/personal property here, and no one wants to see one go before their time as road/dog kill….or let's wring its neck time.
That being said, inexplicably, one occasionally one goes missing. ** 

Coq Au Vin


Our food blogger, Jenna Weber, puts her spin on Julia Child's coq au vin recipe. She shares some tips for making this dish in a full post on the Fresh Tastes blog.

  • 4 slices thick cut bacon
  • 3 lbs chicken breasts and legs, skin on (two breasts and two drumsticks)
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 tsp minced garlic
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary, minced
  • 2 cups red wine
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 10 oz sliced mushrooms
  • ¼ tsp pepper
  • ½ tsp salt (or, to taste)


  1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees.
  2. Fry the bacon over medium heat in a dutch oven or large heavy-bottomed pot. After it’s fried, remove the bacon and place on paper towels to drain. Once cool, chop bacon and set aside. Keep the bacon grease in the pot.
  3. Turn heat to high and place chicken, skin-side down in the pot. Sear chicken until golden brown on both sides, about eight minutes. Then, add the onions, garlic, bay leaves and rosemary. Continue sautéing until the onions begin to soften, about six minutes.
  4. Add the chicken broth and red wine. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and let simmer for 30 minutes.
  5. After 30 minutes, carefully remove the chicken from the pot and place in an oven-safe dish. Keep chicken warm in the oven while you work on the sauce.
  6. Stir the flour and butter (butter should melt instantly in the pot) into the red wine sauce. Bring back up to a boil and stir constantly----sauce should be begin to thicken. Add mushrooms, chopped bacon, salt and pepper and continue cooking for 10-12 minutes. Keep in mind that the sauce will also thicken up a bit when it cools.
  7. Place chicken back in sauce and serve with roasted potatoes, noodles or a big green salad.
Yield: 4 servings

** No animals were harmed during the writing of this essay.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Donkeys, Chimps, and Other Things

December 5, 2012
I just returned from Cuenca. I went over a few days ago to rendezvous with my brother Jack, who recently arrived, and friends/Olón neighbors Doug and Pam, who also own a townhouse in Cuenca. They went to Baños first before I got there, and we all returned back to the coast yesterday. Unfortunately, my husband Todd wasn’t able to come along for this trip because of other commitments.

And as always, I enjoyed my trip to Cuenca (my 8th visit since May, but without dental appointments this time, because we’re pretty much done with those for now).

On Saturday night, we went to “Joe’s Secret Garden” for dinner – hands down, one of the best and most unique places to eat in Cuenca. I’ve wanted to eat there for a long time. Joe’s Secret Garden is located in a lovely and private home and generally only serves dinner on Saturday nights, offering a prefix menu, with limited seating for around 50-70 (I suppose). Reservations are necessary, which book quickly once their themed dinner menu is posted earlier in the week. The food and the setting are spectacular, and we lucked out on getting in on Joe’s “fried chicken dinner night”.
There was an entertaining bunch of people the night we went, but in particular, it was a fun and surprising delight to run into Mary Beckman (of “South of Zero” fame) and her husband Steve.  South of Zero” is the premier website for Ecuador expats (or soon to be) with links to most all forums, blogs, official government entities for those here, or considering the move.  Steve and Mary, and his brother, Dave, just made the permanent leap within the last couple of weeks, and are getting settled in well. She and I have been friends for some time, and met in person a while back (see “Trash Truck Groupy”).

While enjoying an after dinner aperitif, and exploring the downstairs public area of the home (and listening to Joe treat us to a lovely piano repertoire) I discovered an original "Palm Springs 'Cheetah” painting on the wall. I was thrilled, because for years, I’ve been a fan, and have collected/gifted a number of those, and recognized the artist right away.  Todd and I lived about two blocks from “Cheetah” when we lived in Palm Springs (Racquet Club Estates Neighborhood). My “Cheetah’s” are still in Southern California storage.  It was fun to talk with Joe, who also lived in Palm Springs for some time. * 

It’s nice to be back home in Olón, but it can sometimes take me half a day or so to re-adjust to our little town after enjoying the more sophisticated pleasures of Cuenca (and on this visit – also reminded of how affectionately I think and miss our Palm Springs friends).

We don’t have any chimpanzees in Ecuador (that I know of), though we do have howling monkeys in the nearby Machalilla National Park.

We do have, however, a plethora of equestrian wild life.  Horses, donkeys, mules.
This guy (pictured adjacent) is a mule, we think.  He’s been hanging around our neighborhood for last few weeks.

Which has spurred a number of rather animated conversations between Todd and me and several friends about EXACTLY WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A JACKASS, DONKEY, MULE (let alone a BURRO)?  

This is a fun one to “Google”.

"Mule" doing a little
grocery shopping.
“A mule is half horse and half donkey. When a female horse--a mare--mates with a male donkey--a jack--the resulting offspring is a mule. Mules are sterile and are generally unable to reproduce. Their adult size depends on the breeds of their parents. A rarely seen variation is a hinny--the offspring of a male horse and a female donkey.

What is the difference between a donkey and a burro? Burro is Spanish for donkey. Many people in the Southwest use the term to refer to feral donkeys on public lands. Burros are usually smaller than horses and mules”.

….but my favorite definition is this one from “”:

“There are subtle differences between burros, donkeys, mules, and a jackass. A burro is basically a mule. A mule is a domesticated hybrid between a horse and a donkey. A donkey is a domesticated ass. An ass is a wild donkey. The only difference between an ass and a donkey is the fact that a donkey is domesticated and an ass is not. A jackass is a male ass. Makes sense. I don't think I have every used ass more in one paragraph”.
Definitely Donkeys
* There is some controversy about authenticated/documented “Cheetah’s” who co-starred in the Tarzan movies.  There were a few of them.  See:

Friday, November 23, 2012

Blame it On the Kindle

November 22, 2012

I think photo courtesy of
Jean Bennett
Well, yes…I suppose I’ve been on a little bit of a writing hiatus recently. This is partly because I needed the break.
I also spent several weeks in bed getting over a wicked flu (and I NEVER normally get it, so I’m a wuss when that happens) and the tail-end of our “winter” overcast weather has made me crabby on some days (though our steady sunny days here have already begun – earlier than usual – thank goodness!).

I think photo courtesy of
Joan Dale

But I think the biggest finger-of-blame can be fairly/squarely aimed at the new Kindle that was delivered to me recently. 
Todd (bless his heart) has been gently asking me if I’m ever going to get out of bed again, and I’m like “not now…I’m downloading the whole '50 Shades of Gray' trilogy at the moment”.  I haven’t gotten squat done since that device arrived.
Poor guy has been asking me nicely to please “step away from the Kindle now”.

And my apologies for being tardy about responding to emails lately…leetle backed up on that one too.
In my past life, I had a tendency to schedule in a day more than I could realistically do.
Now?...I generally do stay busy, but I couldn’t exactly tell you doing what.  Grocery shopping, for instance, takes longer here (it’s not like you can run to your nearest Ralph's and pick up everything you need). Aside from having to go to Libertad a couple of times a month to stock up on certain groceries (cheeses, meats, pickles, some specialty items), the daily shopping expeditions require going to several different tiendas and vegetable stands to pick up dinner. And this week, I spent an inordinate amount of time fixing the branches on my fake $12 Christmas tree (no fresh ones here), agonized over how to arrange the canned goods on my kitchen shelves, and spent waaay too much time on Facebook.

But we have been having a lot of fun with all the new expats that have moved here in the last year or so. Expats Dave and Heather (who live in Ayangue) have taken it upon themselves to organize regular get-togethers – usually held on Saturdays at one of the Olón beach cabanas for lunch, and Wednesday nights at Por Qué No in Montanita.

Heather, Debbie C. and Dave
Halloween is not traditionally a holiday in Ecuador, but it’s beginning to catch on a little, especially in Montanita.  A big Halloween party was held this year at Por Qué No, (in conjunction with the
Montanita Brewing Company, with T.J., who showcased some new micro-brews), and I was really impressed by some of the creative and clever costumes that people wore. I’m including a few pictures of some of my favorites.
Bill and Coleen Baker

Barb and Robert
Doug and Deborah Clark
and guess who?
We really do have a nice bunch of expats now living in our area, and recently we’ve been joined by a fun contingent of expats from the Salinas/Ballenita area (Joan and Vic Dale, Jean Bennett and her husband, Randy, Janice and Ed Wilcox, Ron and Donna Carlson, and Sandy and Jim Mathre – to name a few). We’ve all had a lot of laughs, and these gatherings are always a great way to exchange information and share our experiences.
That being said, there have been a few visitors here that are pretty much out of their element, and I just want to shake my head when I meet people that clearly didn’t do their homework before coming (THIS IS NOT THE UNITED STATES, FOLKS) and arrive with unrealistic expectations or condescending attitudes.

I was standing outside the mall in Libertad a while back and struck up a conversation with a gringa who is here for several months. All she did was bitch, bitch, bitch about the slow pace, the inefficiencies and inconveniences of the culture here.  I wanted to throttle her, and all I could think of is “so go home already!”.
And a few weeks ago, I was standing on the highway waiting for a bus, when I was flagged down by a gringo couple in a rental car who said: “Hola! Do you speak English?”  and I rather uncharitably thought “geesum, what was your first clue? The blond hair or the freckles? 

And THEN they asked me “is there a pay phone around here?  Oh boy…..I had to bite my tongue not to say: “yeah, just right on down the road next to the Olive Garden.
….Okay, I was in a pretty surly mood that day, and actually their question was not all that dumb, but more seasoned travelers would know to ask for the nearest cyber café.
And I have to remind myself that we were new here once too, and surely asked plenty of ignorant questions ourselves (and probably still do).
Anyway, we just returned from the annual Thanksgiving dinner held at Casa del Sol.  This was our third time, it is always a lot of fun, and the turn-out was large.  TJ did a head-count at one point tonight, and came up with 120 people (always a nice mix of Ecuadorians and expats).

Saturday, November 3, 2012

BINGO – Olón Style

November 2, 2010

Last Saturday night, a special event was held in our Olón Park to help raise money for the local Olón Orphanage, which included wonderful entertainment and BINGO games to raise money for the kids.
There are many who have a heart for these children.
I have written before about the gringos who have taken these youngsters under their wings.

Bingo cards were sold before-hand to raise money for the kids. The night of the occasion was rainy and dreary, but the local and expat turn-out was standing room only.
It was a wonderful evening, with GREAT entertainment before the games.
Instrumental in helping pre-sell the bingo cards were several expats.
Todd and I were there until about 8PM, when we had to leave just as the BINGO games were starting. We gave our cards to some local kids before we left, and I hope some of them won a prize or two.
I did get a fairly decent video of one act --- SEE LINK BELOW:
For the time being, I am unable to upload videos directly into posts, so please click on the link below:

(INKAI with dancers from Quito and Bolivia)


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Playing With My Kindle

October 23, 2012

Todd and I were in Cuenca a couple of weeks ago (for a week). This is our seventh trip to Cuenca since the end of April for extensive dental work we needed (and our final dental work completed *).  We have enjoyed every one of our trips to the city. It’s a 6-7 hour journey from Olón via bus to Guayaquil ($5.50 pp) and then a shuttle van to Cuenca from there ($12-15 pp). I’m sure we’ll still make regular visits, though our dental work is done. On this trip we also had scheduled appointments with lawyers, a “wellness-check” doctor’s appointment for Todd **, and a hair appointment for me.  

We stayed at the Inca Real Hotel, as usual –our “home away from home” when we go to Cuenca. It’s conveniently located near Parque Caldron, the staff treats us royally there, and they’ve always given us a generous discount because of our many weekly stays there.

Todd and I with Íme, one of our
favorite friends at Inca Real,
who is moving to a new job shortly.
Ecuador is the rose capital of the world,
and this bountiful bouquet of roses
cost $6 at the nearby flower market.
As it turns out, many of our Olón neighbors were also in Cuenca that same week; Doug and Pam were there to oversee the remodel of their new townhouse in Cuenca; Barb and Robert (from nearby Curia) were there to take care of business too, and our new Jardines de Olón neighbors Steve and Beckey (who bought Randy and Fonda’s house) were in Cuenca as well. 
But we didn’t see much of them, because Todd and I spent most of the time in bed sick with “la gripe”. The flu seems to go around every October (this is our 3rd October here, and we’ve yet to escape it). Todd had it the week before we left, and was still recovering – I came down with it just as we arrived in Cuenca. It usually lasts a week or two. We were sick the whole time in Cuenca (with just enough energy to make it to scheduled appointments, and then back to bed).
The kind and friendly staff at Inca Real considerately brought us plenty of hot Limón and honey tea to our room frequently (the most common and effective remedy here for influenza), and fresh towels daily.

But there was NO WAY I was going to miss my hair appointment. I usually get it “done” in Montanita. Since I wear my hair long (and usually up in a ponytail), I don’t need a sophisticated cut, but do require a regular color job to get rid of the gray roots. Shortly before we went to Cuenca, I tried a different/cheaper gal in Montanita. I’ve always joked that the hairdressers in Montanita could turn my hair pink for all I care, as long as the gray is gone.
...That I could live with…
But this new gal did something worse….she turned it an “ash” color.  I don’t “do” ash – it was an awful color on me, and I was determined to get it fixed while we were in Cuenca. As sick as I was, I wasn’t missing that appointment even if I had to go dragging a glucose drip bag wheeled on a long pole attached to me.
I was very pleased with the results. **

About the only other commitment I was able to make while in Cuenca was to join our friends Doug & Pam, Barb & Robert, our Cuenca friend Regina P. for dinner one night at “Tiesto’s”. Todd was down for the count that night with the flu, and I didn’t have much of an appetite, but rallied (with the help of gobs of ibuprofen and a glass of wine) to join them for a while. Tiesto’s is really a special treat (pricey, but awesome food, served personally by Chef Juan Carlos Solano). Go with friends and with a healthy appetite.

Robert, Barb, Doug,
Pam & Regina

On the Sunday, the night before we left for Cuenca, we celebrated the 2nd birthday of our little friend and neighbor, Sebastian. Sebastian is the son of Vincente and Tomasa, who are the proprietors of local tienda and hang-out – Johanita’s. Birthdays are a big deal around here, especially for the little kids. They held it at the tienda, and it was a fun mix of gringos and Ecuadorians.

We danced, we drank beer, and all of us took a shot at the piñata.


Steve, Rebecca & Will
and Todd with the balloon head.


And the recently instigated gringo Saturday lunch and Wednesday night gringo get-togethers have really taken off, mostly thanks to the dedicated efforts of fun ex-pats Dave and Heather (who live in Ayangue, about 20 minutes south of Olón, by car). In the last year, the number of permanent ex-pats in our area has soared, with a bunch more in the process of arriving in the next 6 months or so.
Usually the Saturday lunches are at Tito and Hannah’s cabana on the Olón beach (though recently because of our dreary weather, we’ve been doing pot-luck lunches at various homes). Wednesday night gatherings are usually in Montanita – generally at Por Que No – where T.J. (of Casa del Sol)  is showcasing some of his new micro-brews (a great, new and welcome concept here. See their Montañita Brewing Company Facebook page.

These are fun get-togethers and a great place to exchange information (many of us are in the process of getting ready to build/in the process of building/have built), or navigating the resident visa process here, or learning the language, and other useful tidbits.  There’s a nice bunch of people here.

We’ve tried to make it to most of these, but I’m still feeling really shitty. This year’s flu has been more virulent for me than in the past.  Earlier today, I finally went to the local Olón doctor (Dr. Edgar, next to the park), who doesn’t speak much ingles, but I like him a lot, and he’s good for these type of common ailments. He had all the prescriptions I needed on hand (the walk-in check-up, including the antibiotics and pain-relieving 'scripts cost $20). In the last 4-5 hours,  I am already starting to finally feel better. I’ve pretty much spent the last 3 weeks in bed – too lethargic to do anything more than lay there and play with my new Kindle that Doug and Pam brought back to me after a recent trip to the USA.

*  With Dr. Juan Fernando Vega (of the Clinica Dental Vega), and we’ve been very pleased with the results. He is gentle, speaks ingles, and is a perfectionist. We feel confident recommending him. And the cost for all these dental procedures (including oral surgery) has cost us about a quarter to a third of USA prices. His email is:

** He made the appointment after we arrived, was in to see the doctor the next day ($30 consultation fee). The doctor filled out a lab form with over 3 dozen routine blood and urine tests for Todd to take to the lab the next morning (lab tests - $34), which were then emailed to the doctor the same day, and a final (free) consultation regarding the results with the doctor later on that day.

*** I asked some of my Cuenca friends for referrals, and ended up going to Ignacio at the “Sojo Spa”. He did a great job with both the color and cut for $40.

Monday, October 8, 2012

"Survivor" - Ecuador

October 6, 2012
My Cousin Todd

You ever have days where you feel like this????
I’ve been much more emotional, less energetic, and at times, overly “thin-skinned” and sensitive than usual for the last couple of months…
And I don’t think it’s just me: I’ve talked to a lot of people lately who seem to be experiencing the same thing.

I’m pretty sure it’s not “culture shock” *, since we’ve been coming to Ecuador for five years, and lived here permanently for over two of those (though I am a little disappointed in myself that my español isn’t as fluent as I had hoped by now).
But it seems that quite a few generally “normal” situations are going sideways at the moment.

Like take for instance,
this stupid baking tray I bought
that had the label FIRMLY stuck on.

 By the time I got the label scrubbed off,
most of the teflon had been scoured off as well.
Rendering it perfectly useless for baking.
Which happened to me in the States as well.
WHO are these sadists who come up with

these stupid ideas?
 What were they thinking?
Aren't they aware that a few drops of

rubber glue is sufficient?
WHY do they have to
cement these things on?
Who knows?
May be the planets are in the wrong alignment; may be I’ve gone too long without real Mexican food;   perhaps it’s “karma” coming back; it could be menopause (which I thought long past) taking a whack at me one last time.

Todd and I went to Quito a couple of weeks ago (for 3 days) to take care of some paperwork/business. We busted our butts to take care of last minute business in Olón, had to spend a wad of dinero to fly there from Guayaquil ($80-90/one way – depending on airline and flight times) on a Tuesday flight to make a scheduled  Wednesday morning appointment with attorney. Which of course, ended up being delayed “till later – not everything ready”. 
Which we knew to expect, and had decided beforehand not to let our expectations be too unrealistic. 

We stayed at the Magic Bean ($40 per night/private double room/continental breakfast included) in the popular gringo Mariscal tourist district – okay place to stay if you’re there for a few days or an overnight stop, but can get loud at night because of its location. But the staff is very friendly and helpful.


“Mission” was accomplished by late Thursday afternoon (at least I think it was) in time for our Friday trip home (we were going to take the scenic/cheaper 12-hr bus trip back to Olón, but by then, we couldn’t wait to get  home, and spent another wad of money to fly (without reservations, including  a long wait for first available flight on a Friday) from Quito to GYE, connect with one of our drivers once there, and get back to Olon by late Friday night.

The weather was glorious and sunny/cloudless in Quito while we were there - an absolutely perfect time  to do some site-seeing, like taking the TelefériQo cable up the mountain, or to visit the nearby  Equator museums especially because we were there during the “fall equinox”- which on the “day of”, no shadow cast if you are standing there. In particular, I recommend the Inti-Ňan site (which is the true GPS location). Pretty "touristy", but interesting, informative, and fun.

("Coincidently", exactly 5 years ago to the week, I stood there for the first time, the day after the equinox).
But we ended up spending most of time on “stand-by” in the hostal room waiting. By then we were both so crabby with the Ecuadorian bureaucracy (and frankly, with Quito in general by this point), we were starting to snipe at each other out of our frustration.

It happens down here, folks…
For sure, expect that expatriating to a new country (any new country, not just Ecuador) CAN be hard on the best of relationships (and this is something not always talked about/admitted to frankly on the ex-pat forums or blogs).

Which segues right into my next current aggravation:

It is a small world here, and the gossip and innuendos and “hearsay” among the gringo expats/”wannabe” expats CAN and DOES get out of hand at times.  There are a number of several good Ecuador-geared expat forums (mostly on Facebook) that are wonderful resources for information, but often threads get off topic, or lean towards differences that would be  better addressed in private emails rather than being “aired” in public. Often when the topics veer off subject, the comments are funny, but lately on some of the forums, the comments have taken a nasty turn, which is too bad, because – after all – we are all in this together.

I’ve gotten a lot of private emails regarding some of these situations (MORE information than I care to know), have been very distressed by some of these conversations, and have found myself spending WAAAY more time than I care to, responding to many of those.
And I am experiencing the sense of a couple of impending votes against me during the next few “tribal council(s) ---- she said laughing".
Okay, now to completely change the topic:

President Correa gave his Saturday morning speech from beach spot in Montanita last Saturday. I was running late getting there, but quickly made a handmade sign that said “Gringos for Correa” to hold up during the speech.  I suppose I arrived at the event about an hour after it started, and ended up in the back crowd standing behind the 100 or so seats/roaming media cameras set up in front/near the stage.
There was a large contingent of uniformed security present, but no one was “screened” by x-ray scanners, etc. This is the second time since we’ve moved here that President Correa has visited our area, and I am always astonished at his “accessibility” to the public (as opposed to the security measures implemented in the States in similar circumstances).

But what also surprises me is the somewhat "blasé" attitude of a number of locals who seem to take it as a "matter of course" that the PRESIDENT of their country is nearby. Only 50 yards away from his platform/stage, folks were surfing, having pic-nics, etc, as usual and didn't seem to take much notice of President Correa's presence (other than the ever present roaming vendors). 

(As an aside comment, I try my best to keep this blog non-political, because I am neither an expert on USA nor Ecuadorian politics, policies, or governmental issues –though for sure, I have my own opinions. I will only mention for now that anyone living/considering moving down here should read the book “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man” by John Perkins, and “Collapse” by Jared Diamond (long slog to read, but worth it).  

We think President Correa is doing a darn good job running this country (not to say that we agree with all his policies, but we do support the sense of stability he has given Ecuador during his tenure, and frankly glad for his stance on giving J. Assange asylum in Britain, and for not backing down on Hague agreement(s) regarding foreign embassy sovereignty status.

Shortly after I arrived and holding my sign up high from the back, I was told by a guy in plaid shirt (who I assumed to be a “plain-clothes”security guy) to hold the sign down. I wasn’t sure if he was saying I was “blocking the view” or I wasn’t allowed to do it. So I drifted further towards the ocean, and further away from the stage, still holding the sign waist-high, and was chatting with a few Ecuadorian and gringo friends when several of Correa’s media coordinators (?) wearing official tee-shirts came and “got me”.

At first, I was a little scared about being singled-out, and wasn’t sure if I was in trouble or not. As it turns out, they led me through the uniformed security, opened a seat for me to sit nearer the stage (and the roaming “live” crowd TV camera boom) and indicated that I should hold my sign up high. 
I sat and listened to the last hour of Correa’s presentation (though I probably only understood about every tenth word) and I did what I do when watching football or soccer games (the rules of these games are as foreign to me as Spanish): I enthusiastically waved my sign when everyone else cheered and were waving Ecuadorian flags.
* A great book to read is Nicholas Crowder's book "Culture Shock", which covers a number of subjects not normally found in other Ecuadorian travel books.