October 31, 2006

A visit with a fellow blogger

You know how when you read someone's blog for a while, you feel like you really know the person? Almost like they are a friend or neighbor? You feel like you could sit down and have a cup of coffee or go out for a glass of wine and feel totally comfortable with them. Well, it's true − it can happen. It happened to me with Bound for Ceiba.

In case you don't know her blog The Southern Leap, Bound for Ceiba is investigating making a move to La Ceiba to open a tourist-related business here. It hasn't been easy for her. Just getting a straight answer about how to apply for residency and what is required to open a business has been very frustrating. Not just for her − I've heard this from several people who are considering moving to Honduras.

On her previous short visit last month, we met for coffee and ended up talking for hours. She was just the way I expected her to be and I enjoyed the visit so much. Now she's back for a more extended visit, checking out properties and so forth.

On Sunday, El Jefe, she, and I drove around town some to see different areas and to check out some possible short-term apartments for her. It was a good day to do it, too, because it was easy to tell the areas that flood.

After that, we went out to dinner (separate article − finally a good restaurant in La Ceiba!!!!), and we all had just the greatest time. She is just as nice and smart and friendly and generous as she seems in her blog. And to top off a perfect evening, she gave me a gift of chocolate chips, a gardening book, and some key lime seeds (which I'm going to do my very best to get germinated). Wow! I couldn't think of a more perfect present so I guess she knows me pretty well, too.

How about you? Do you feel like you really know the blogger after reading the blog for awhile?

October 30, 2006

Chicken update and chicken cam

Ramona and Ramón

We've had the chickens almost a month now. They seem to be doing great and have grown a little, although they still weigh about as much as your average chicken breast. They are bantams, miniature chickens, in case you didn't know what that meant like I didn't a few months ago.

If you compare the picture above with the pictures here, I think you can see that they have grown and that Ramón's comb has gotten bigger and stands up straight now. Ramón definitely acts like a cocky rooster. He struts around while Ramona follows. He rushes to protect her if he thinks she is being threatened. Their favorite treat is a ripe plantain which he eats first while Ramona waits. They stick together all of the time.

They are getting to be more trusting of us. They will eat out of my hand, but generally try to stay at the exact distance where they know I cannot reach to grab one of them. In the evening, they come back from their chicken work and wait for me to put them in their cage. That's the only time that they willingly let me pick them up.

I cover their little pen at night. I don't know if this is silly or not. I know that parakeets' cages are covered at night, so what the heck! Twice I slept in too long in the morning and Chloe the Rottweiler removed the cover for me. This morning they were making a big ruckus about 6 a.m. I think Chloe was tormenting them by banging against their pen. I think I heard Ramón's first crowing but it is hard to say because it sounds like a jungle around our house when the sun comes up. The wild birds make every kind of chirping, singing, squawking, whistling noise that you can imagine.

Every morning I take the chicks (technically they would be called a cockerel and pullet) down to the vegetable garden area where they spend most of their day pecking and digging for bugs. They come back to the terraza (where their pen is) every afternoon. Some days they come back too soon and spend the afternoon, pecking at ants, digging in potted plants, and otherwise making a mess of the terraza. Usually I take them back out to work and then they return sometime before dark. They cuddle up on their blanket out of reach of the dogs and wait for me to put them away for the night. Smart chickens!

One day Chloe went after Ramón who tried to hide in a hole. It was the same problem as before with Ramona − only his top half was actually in the hole. Chloe apparently pulled him out and carried him somewhere. El Jefe brought Ramón inside, soaking wet and flopped over on his back in the palm of El Jefe's hand.

I jumped up and started shrieking, "What happened?! What happened?! Is he dead?!" El Jefe said no, that Chloe apparently gave him a slobber bath and I needed to dry him off. Whew! That was a close one. For the most part, the chickens keep a safe distance from the dogs.

And for a special treat for my readers, I have another chicken cam. The music is 'Rompe' by Daddy Yankee. In English, 'rompe' means to break, smash, shatter, tear into pieces. In the context of this song, El Jefe tells me that it means something like to make a disaster. It seems an appropriate song for the 'chicken work' being done in this video. Enjoy!

If you have any problems with the video, like I do on my poor old computer, just click on "YouTube" and it should play fine on that site.

Cold Front, October 30

Street in El Toronjal, La Ceiba

After 24 hours of rain, we have had a cold front move in. It's been cloudy and dark. Right now, at 1:00 in the afternoon, it is 77°F (25°C) with 93% humidity.

It hasn't been this cool mid-day since last January. The weather forecast is showing a low of 66°F (19°C) tonight and expected highs no more than 80°F (27°C) for the next four days this week. I guess I'll have to get out the comforter for the bed tonight.

I used to laugh at these frente frios (cold fronts) but I guess my blood has thinned because it feels positively cold. Brrrr! I have on sweat pants and am wearing socks with my flip-flops. If you think I'm bad, the water man just showed up wearing a heavy down winter jacket!

Yesterday the temperature ranged from 71-75°F (22-24°C) with humidity of 72% to 94%. The rain ruined my plans of going around town with Bound for Ceiba to take photos for some of my blog article drafts. But don't think that I'm complaining! This weather is a welcome relief from the heat.

The photo at top shows what many of the roads in town look like after a rain. The next two photos are my feeble attempts to capture the force of the rain coming off the eave of the house.

Oh, I just found out that Bound for Ceiba has some good pictures of what it looked like in town yesterday.

October 29, 2006

The rest of the La ENEE story

These are the 5 street lights in the next block.
I have no idea why this picture is red.

The truth has come out. After reading my blog article about the La ENEE workers, El Jefe told me the rest of the story.

During the afternoon, the workers made a big point of discussing in front of him how the last time they came out (when was that, I wonder, because it's been three years since our street lights were working?), Señor X (name changed to protect the guilty), the developer of our colonia (neighborhood), gave them each L.500 ($26 U.S.) for their work!

True or not, I don't know, but we certainly don't carry that amount of money around in our pockets and would not have given them a bribe like that anyway! They do get paid a salary for their crappy work and it's better than most people in this country make. L.500 is almost a week's pay for many folks.

They tried to leave around 5 p.m. but El Jefe insisted that they finish all the lights in the colonia. (They do get paid for working late.) They said that when they work late, their supervisor always tells them that he will get them something to eat but never does. So El Jefe went to the nearby gas station and bought them hamburgers and another 2-liter Coke.

Another tidbit: Some of our neighbors drove by, checking to be sure that their lights were fixed. Instead of chatting with El Jefe, (or maybe even thanking him?!) they then quickly rushed off in their cars, probably knowing that they would be hit up for money or food but preferring to leave El Jefe stuck with the "bill."


October 28, 2006


Allamanda cathartica is a sturdy evergreen perennial vine here in Honduras. Yellow trumpet and golden trumpet are common names sometimes used, but it is most widely known simply as Allamanda.

It is native to Brazil but has become widely naturalized in tropical areas throughout the world. In Queensland, Australia, it has been declared an invasive species but in most areas of the world it is considered a desirable plant. In most of the USA and Canada, of course, it is treated as an annual or greenhouse plant but can survive short spells as low as 32°F (0°C) and is suitable for growing outdoors only in USDA zones 9-11.

Allamanda is an attractive vine with gorgeous yellow flowers that is ever-blooming in the tropics. The 5 inch (12.5 cm.) flowers are attractive to bees and hummingbirds (which, incidentally, I have been seeing a lot of lately here in La Ceiba, but I am never quick enough with the camera to catch one).

The leaves are glossy and leathery and grow in whorls of four. The leaves and stems exude a white latex sap that is said to irritate the skin. Allamanda prefers full sun. Mine is in a location with morning shade but it seems to be doing fine.

I grew this particular vine from a cutting from a hedge on the grounds of a local hotel. I think the armed guard thought I was a tourist and allowed me to take a piece. The cutting rooted fairly quickly but suffered a miserable young life in its pot due to my neglect. I didn't have a place to plant it in the ground where it would be safe from workers and wheel barrows for almost 2 years. It grew leaves and lost them two or three times before I was able to get it planted. Once in the ground, it forgave me, though, and quickly took off and filled the trellis.

I think this plant is
Allamanda cathartica 'Hendersonii,' based on the bronze buds and white speckles inside the flower, shown in this photo. The stems are stiff and break easily when I wait too long to twine them around this metal trellis, another indication that it is the cultivar 'Hendersonii,' and not the species which has thinner more flexible stems.

Allamandas can be propagated from cuttings or seeds, although the flowers on mine
drop before producing seeds. This plant can grow 3 to 10 feet (1 to 3 meters) per year up to 25-52 feet (8-16 m.). Hmm, I see a lot of pruning in my future.

October 27, 2006

More on Kiva


All of the requested Kiva loans that I wrote about on
October 25 have been funded. Did Matthew, a Canadian teacher in Honduras, Ruthy, a Honduran-American in Missouri, and I have anything to do with this or is it a coincidence? I'd like to think we have made a difference!

At the moment that I write this, there are two new unfunded Honduran applicants, Maria and Nellys. By the time you read this, it is probable that a new Honduran applicant will be showing in the Kiva badge in the lower part of my sidebar. The badges update automatically, so that we can keep tabs on the progress of the funding. You can check Kiva's entire list of Central American loan applicants here.

Once a loan is 100% funded, the badge in my sidebar automatically changes to another random applicant. Although my internet connection has been really sketchy lately, I'm trying to keep my blog set to the Honduran applicants, just because I know how much help is needed in this country and also because I'd like to draw a little more attention to Honduras. There are terrible problems of hunger in Africa, too, but Africa does get a lot of media and super star attention that Honduras does not get.

I have spent so much time reading the Kiva site. It is just mind-boggling how little it takes for these people to improve their businesses and their lives. The profiles, both of applicants and those who have received loans, though not in-depth, are really touching. I have cried reading some of them.

A surprising number of those who have received and paid back their loans wrote that they have added an employee or even two. These are new jobs created sometimes by as little as a $200 investment. Incredible!

Living in Honduras, I can tell you that I've often wondered how some street vendors, small shops, and small restaurants can stay in business with the meager amount of offerings that they have for sale. Sometimes it is hard to spend my money because the most often heard phrase is "no hay" (there aren't any). Many of these loans are for the purchase of additional inventory which not only increases their sales but also helps them to attract and keep more regular customers.

Here is a translation of the application note from one of the ladies I loaned money to:
My name is Maria Cordoba, and I cook and sell food (fried fish, carne asada, fried chicken, breakfasts, lunches, bread with beans, baleadas-honduran tacos, tortillas with cheese, burritos). I have had my business for 5 years, and I have the help of my husband to tend to the clients. My business has generated earnings to cover the expenses and nourishment of my family. My goal is to increase my inventory to sell more food to my clients and with the earnings, I can improve the bedrooms and finance the studies of my children.
Here is what one person wrote that she needed the loan for:
Loan Use: Buy inventory to increase sales and happiness.
That says it all, doesn't it? How can you not feel empathy for these poor hardworking people who want to improve their lives and obtain a better education for their children, and not only that, but they then spread the happiness by providing new jobs for others?

Please check out the Kiva organization to find one person to whom you are willing to lend $25.


October 25, 2006

Graciela's loan was funded

Graciela's loan was 100% funded as of 9:20 p.m. One Hondureña family's life is going to be a little bit better. Isn't that great? I have no way of knowing if it was La Gringa readers but it is done, so I'm happy. So I'm going to remove her badge from my sidebar and hope that the other two, Maria and Agosto, can get their loans funded now.

I didn't mention in the previous article that Kiva also sells gift cards that you can buy for someone who then can go to the website and select a recipient for the loan funds. That sounded to me like a neat idea for teens. I can just imagine how some teens would be really shocked to find out that $100 (maybe the amount that they spent on their cellphone or tennis shoes?) could change someone's life. Just an idea.


It seems that Honduras has 'come up' in the world. Previously, Haiti was rated as the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. According to the article below, Honduras now rates number one in the category of "chronic hunger," with almost one quarter of the population falling into that category.

Honduras Online Monday, October 23, 2006 Online Edition 39
Hunger on the increase

Honduras is one of the Latin American countries where the number of famished people has increased according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Chronic hunger has reached 23 percent, which represents 1.6 million undernourished Hondurans, seven percent of which are children. The rate has increased during the last few years and Honduras has now surpassed Haiti where the hunger prevalence rate is 18 percent. According to FAO, the situation in Central American is particularly serious since institutional fragility is combined with earthquakes, hurricanes, floods and drought.

El Heraldo
Well, there isn't much anyone can do to help 1.6 million people, but would you be willing to help one family to be self-sufficient? I would, and I did, and I feel pretty good about it. As CNN reported, "If you've got 25 bucks, a PC and a PayPal account, you've now got the wherewithal to be an international financier."

Kiva is a fabulous program which rather than giving charity, the organization gives loans to help people start or expand a small business. Kiva accepts loans in $25 increments through Paypal (by credit card or from your Paypal cash balance), and then disburses the funds to people in 13 countries, including Honduras. Most loans have a term of 6 to 12 months. When the loans are repaid, the original lenders are repaid (without interest). Kiva's repayment rate so far has been about 97%.

Kiva partners with Microsoft and many of its leaders are former executives of Google, EBay, and other well known Silicon Valley companies. Additionally, Kiva is the first organization from which Paypal has waived all processing fees. I read Kiva's FAQ and I was really impressed. I hope you will follow the link to Kiva's site and read what they are all about.

Kiva is a 501(c)3 non profit organization but the loans are not donations so are not tax deductible to you, since they will (probably) be repaid and you will get your money back. The hope, of course, is that you will loan your $25 again to another person.

You can decide to whom you want to lend your money by reading the cases of each person, what they need the money for, the expected term of the loan, the payment records of any previous loans, and what they hope to do with their profits. Many plan to send their children to school with their increased earnings − a real investment in the future. It is really quite interesting and heart warming.

Currently Kiva has only four applicants from Hondurans requesting loans. I finished off one of them (Melissa, in the top photo, has a tortilla business) and the remaining three are at the bottom of the sidebar at the right. Click on the names to learn more about the applicant and then click on "lend now" if you are willing to help them. Although I spent a lot of time reading the Kiva site, the process of registering and making the loan took less than two minutes.

At the time I posted this, it would only take four more people lending $25 to give Graciela the loan she needs for equipment for her hair salon. Ten more people at $25 each would give Agosto the loan he needs for his auto painting business and 12 more people at $25 each would give Maria the loan she needs for supplies for her restaurant. The badges will be updated automatically and when those loan needs are met, the badges will change to other random applicants.

100% of your loan goes to the recipient. If you want to lend more than $25, it can be split among any number of applicants. This is doable! Can we get Graciela her loan today?

Imagine the pride people feel when they have repaid their loan, versus the shame of having to accept charity. Imagine also what this process teaches their children about self-sufficiency and honoring one's commitments.

Note: Just after I posted this article, three more Honduran applicants were added to the Kiva list. The list is
ever changing as loan funding and new applications are received. The badges, however, should always show the current needs, rather than the amounts listed in this article.

October 27, 2006: See the follow up article here.

October 24, 2006

Let there be light

We had an interesting afternoon yesterday. The La ENEE truck (government-owned power company) showed up about 2:00 p.m., blasting their horn outside our gate, of course.

First a little background: We bought this property in November 2001. During the entire period of construction (a looooong time), we had no working street lights around our house.

El Jefe wasted half a day several times reporting the problem. Every time, the desk clerk would say that the repair crew would be out "mañana" (tomorrow), which is a such an insult to the intelligence. We always wondered if the clerk wrote out the reports and just threw them in the trash as soon as El Jefe left.

Finally, I think it was around the winter of 2003, La ENEE actually came out and replaced a few light bulbs. El Jefe told them that the one on the corner in front of our house blinks on and off for a few hours and then just goes out completely for the rest of the night. They said "que lastima" (what a shame) but they didn't have any equipment to fix that problem, only light bulbs.

Like most work crews in Honduras, there was the driver, the worker, and three watchers. El Jefe served them all juice and practically grovelled in appreciation for changing the light bulbs.

So we had street lights for a few months and then .... nothing. They all went out again. While there are at least three street lights on each block, the nearest lit one was more than one long block away.

All of our neighbors have lights, but we don't.
One neighbor whose street lights are always working told us that he buys his own light bulbs and pays the telephone or cable workers a few hundred lempiras to install them when he sees a truck in the neighborhood. The street lights are really high so a 20' or so ladder is needed to reach them. Barring that, he said that if the La ENEE crew ever does show up that you have to give them something to eat or they won't fix the problem!

Oh, so that was our problem; we only gave them fruit juice.

A month or so ago, El Jefe marked a map of our neighborhood with all the unworking street lights and took it down to La ENEE. They were really impressed and said that NO ONE ever brings them a map, which makes it especially difficult for them to do repairs since we don't have many street signs in La Ceiba or addresses, and of course, the employees only work during the daytime. Everyone gathered around to marvel at the map and asked where he got it. (I made it on the computer from a city plat map).

El Jefe, being the smart guy that he is, refused to give the map to just anyone. He waited for the engineer in charge of repairs for an hour or so until it became apparent that the guy wasn't going to be back before lunch.

He returned in the afternoon and waited a couple of more hours before the engineer finally came back. The engineer said that a map is what everyone needs to do. Suitably impressed, he said that the crew would be out "mañana."

(Like all Honduran government agencies, all La ENEE jobs, down to the secretaries and lowest employees, are political appointees − every election year almost all of the employees are fired and replaced with the new party-in-charge members, who for the most part know absolutely nothing about how to do their job. For that first year, there is almost no point in trying to do anything with the government, unless of course, you have connections. Every fourth year, the economy of Honduras drops so severely that it takes an entire year to recover. )

So they arrived yesterday (a month later), waving the map and shouting for El Jefe by name. First they complemented him on the map, and then informed him that they would be working late to do all this heavy work (changing light bulbs) so they were going to need something to eat! This was 2:00 p.m. in the afternoon, probably one hour after they had eaten lunch!

El Jefe came to tell me. I said, "Okay. You mean something like cookies or chips?" He said, "No, can you cook for them, some eggs or something?" "What the F?*#!," says me. "I don't have any eggs! I don't have any sandwich meat! Should I get the filet mignon out of the freezer?! I don't think it's big enough for all of them." "No, no, no!" says he, frantically looking in the pantry for something that would satisfy the power company workers.

In order to appease them, El Jefe spent the entire afternoon, guiding them all over the neighborhood, reading the map for them, in general sucking up so that they wouldn't leave to go off to extort other people who had better stocked pantries than we do. If they left, they would report the work completed and it could be another three years before we would be able to get them back again.

Meanwhile, I hurriedly put a 2-liter Coke in the freezer to chill. About midway through the afternoon, El Jefe and the truck stopped back for their snack. Luckily, we had some packaged cookies and the Coke or who knows whether we would have ever gotten our lights.

El Jefe sent me a text message about 4 p.m. to say that they hadn't asked yet, but he thought "they might want another 2-liter Coke, so put one in the fridge just in case." Haha, text messaging in Honduras isn't quite so reliable − I received that message about 8:30 p.m., so they didn't get their second Coke. They did require a thermos of ice water about 5 p.m., though.

As it turns out, most of the light bulbs were missing! Stolen by the telephone or cable workers for a little side money was the guess of the La ENEE guys.

From now on, when I see any of those trucks with the tall ladders, I'm going to be keeping my eye on my street lights until they leave.

But wait, there is more to this story. See The rest of the La ENEE story.

October 23, 2006

Honk, honk! We're here!

Doorbells are little used things in La Ceiba. The custom is to loudly and insistently honk the car horn when arriving at someone's house. If the homeowner or maid hasn't immediately rushed outside to attend to the visitor, he honks some more. About every 30 seconds seems to be the usual rhythm.

At one of the apartments we lived in before our house was built, someone apparently went to work about 4:30 a.m. The taxi would arrive and blast the horn, every 30 seconds, until the passenger came out. I thought about putting a pile of rocks by the window to throw at the taxi but I'm not that good a shot.

We often have people honking outside our gate even though we have a doorbell and intercom. Usually it is a delivery person in a very big truck (you know the kind − with the really loud obnoxious horns) asking for directions to someone else's house. I am expected to stop whatever I am doing and rush out to see what they want. And I'm considered quite rude if I don't.

Even if I do rush, they still have a chance to honk two or three times until I can get to the door. At the first honk, all three of my dogs starting barking the "intruder warning" and they don't quit until the vehicle has left.

Neighbors who just want to chat about something will sit in their cars honking until I come out. They are in too much of a hurry to get out of their cars, but then will sit parked in the street with their car running, gabbing for half an hour. Those who have maids or guards will honk upon arriving home so that their gate will be opened for them.

Well, I'm rebelling! If you want to talk to La Gringa, get your butt out of the car and ring the doorbell. And give me a minute to answer it before you ring it again, please!

October 21, 2006

Ramón's movie debut

Go ahead....click it. It's only 30 seconds long.

In case you are wondering, I brought him inside the house to see if he would eat some of the millions of hormigas locas (crazy ants) that have invaded the house. But all he could think about was making a jail break for outside.

UPDATE: If there is no sound with the video, please click on "YouTube" and it will take you to the video on the YouTube site. I don't know if the problem is my computer or my blog. Anyone know anything about this?

October 20, 2006

Google me

I love Google. Searches, images, maps, Gmail, everything Google.

I have this neat thing called Google Analytics. It tells me all sorts of stuff, half of which means nothing because I don't have advertisements on my blog. But the other stuff is interesting. For example, I know that I have had visitors from
71 countries and every state in the U.S. except Wyoming. Does that qualify as world famous? Know anyone in Wyoming?

Google tells me the questions to which readers need answers. Sometimes I was "spot on" as the Brits say. I had the answer "nailed" as the North Americans say. But I always feel kind of bad when I see that Google sent someone here and I know they didn't find their answer. So, better late than never, here are some answers:

La gringa means 'the foreign woman,' particularly of the North American or British type. El gringo means the same only it is speaking of a man.

El Jefe means 'the boss.' In the context of this blogicito, it's a term of endearment, not a job title. Also, since this is a macho society, you know that the men always have to be in charge, right? ;-D My El Jefe is cien por ciento Catracho (100% Honduran) and he's the biggest fan of my blog because he knows that I tell the truth, even when it isn't very flattering to his country. I like a man with a sense of humor.

No, you don't have to take the seeds out of eggplant before you eat it. I don't even know how you could. Don't make work for yourself when it isn't necessary.

I guess that you start a citrus grove by planting citrus trees.

If your eggplant won't fruit, the weather probably isn't warm enough or the plant isn't getting enough sun. I haven't fertilized mine so I don't think fertilizer would be your problem. If it looks wilted, water it. (Sorry, this one is probably too late.)

Pick your papayas when they begin to show patches of yellow . Wait longer if you don't have a problem with birds. Don't wait until they are completely yellow because they will be overripe. (I hope I'm not too late here.)

Once and for all, mangosteen is not illegal to grow or to eat in the U.S. It's only illegal to import the fruit from certain countries because of the risk of importing insects to the U.S.

If your taro is drooping, it probably needs more water. These plants like a lot of water and often grow in drainage ditches or swamps here.

As for "Dijon mustard expiration dates," "love," "peace corps and Belize," "dubai uruguay," and "eggplant tongue itch," sorry, you are on your own there, although I do appreciate the vote of confidence from Google. ;-)

October 19, 2006

So damn hot!

It is so damn hot! I know I don't deserve any pity. Some of you already have snow. Many have had a hard frost and have lost all your veggie plants. I'm sorry. I know I shouldn't complain, but the temperature has really been unbearable lately.

This week the inside of the house has been 85°F plus (30°C) when I go to bed at night (sometimes at 2:00 a.m.!). Couple that with 86% humidity and it is a living hell.

At 6:00 p.m., it is dark and the outside temperature is still 84°F (29°C) with only 74% humidity which gives a heat index or "real feel" temperature of 92°F (34°C).

Right now my bedroom is 88°F (31°C) with 80% humidity. I wish I knew how to calculate that "real feel" temperature of the inside temperatures so I could really wallow in my suffering minute by minute.

The only reason I even get out of bed in the morning is because it is so damn hot that I can't sleep. But once I get up, get dressed, make the coffee, and feed the animals, I'm drenched with sweat and have no energy to do anything else. Even the dogs hardly do more than lay panting on the cool ceramic tiles. Occasionally, they get up and lick the sweat off my legs.

We actually ran our air conditioner four nights last week. That's about three times more than we usually run it in a month. Electricity is expensive here and besides it goes out all the time. For the first hour that the air conditioner runs, all it does is reduce the humidity − but what a difference that makes!

La Prensa said today that San Pedro Sula (about 2 hours drive from here) has reached 104°F (40°C) and that it is a result of El Niño heating the ocean. They say the heat which began on October 10 should diminish by November. Jeesh! Will I live that long?

I read on Saratica's blog that people who complain live longer. I would have thought it was the other way around, but I guess that by complaining, I am getting all that anger or stress out of my system.

Okay. I should live a good long time then, I guess.

Thanks for putting up with me.

October 18, 2006


Le Reve (The Dream), Pablo Picasso

Now here is one big oops. Steve Wynn, the millionaire Las Vegas casino developer, finalized the sale of his Picasso 'Dream' for $139 million, which he said was the most ever paid for a painting.

One problem: a few days later he accidentally poked a hole in it. Ouch!

October 17, 2006

How to make tortillas

Today I'm going to do a show and tell about how I make tortillas de harina (flour tortillas). This is by no means instructions for authentic Honduran flour tortillas, because I'm not talented enough to make those perfectly round disks by flapping the dough back and forth in my hands.

This is my Americanized version but it is
pretty darn good. You can get very close to a Honduran tortilla if you shape the dough thicker than I do.

First I'll give the basic recipe and then I'll give more detailed instructions along with some information about how Honduran women traditionally prepare tortillas.

La Gringa's Honduran-American Tortillas
Approximately 20 6" tortillas

4 cups all purpose white flour
2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking powder
4 tbsp. manteca (hydrogenated vegetable oil)
1 1/4 cups or more water

Measure the flour into a large bowl. Add salt and baking powder and mix with spoon or pastry cutter. Add manteca and cut into flour with pastry cutter or fork until the bits of manteca are no longer visible.

Add most of the water and mix with a large spoon until all the water is absorbed. Add up to 1/4 cup more water if dough seems stiff or dry. Turn dough onto floured surface and knead about 50 times until the dough is smooth and begins to bubble. Cover the dough and let it rest about 15 minutes.

After the rest period, tear off pieces of dough and roll in your hands into smooth balls, about 20 for 6" tortillas. Cover the balls with plastic or a towel and let them rest again for about 15 minutes.

Shape the tortillas and bake them on a hot griddle or cast iron skillet for 1-2 minutes on each side until a few browned spots (freckles) appear. Keep warm in a towel-lined basket until ready to serve.


It was tough to find a recipe as NO ONE measures the ingredients. When I first tried to find a tortilla recipe, some women told me to use baking soda, some women said baking powder, and some said to use either one. Some said "you know, the powder in the yellow bag." Well, they both can be purchased in yellow bags. I didn't think the two were interchangeable, but apparently they are in Honduran tortillas.

I found that the dough made with baking soda tended to bounce back into a smaller circle no matter how much I stretched it, so I much prefer using baking powder. An interesting thing is that most Mexican tortillas recipes I've seen don't call for any leavening.

The white flour available here usually says on the package "mejor para baleadas" (better for tortillas) or "mejor para pan" (better for bread). I've noticed that the "better for tortillas" flour has 11% protein so I think that is the equivalent of an all-purpose soft wheat flour. I have substituted 1/2 to 1 cup of whole wheat flour when I can find it. It adds a nice flavor.

The dictionary definition of manteca includes butter, lard, and oil but m
anteca in Honduras is a hydrogenized palm oil that comes in tubes. The one I use is partly corn oil and that's why it is yellow instead of pure white like most mantecas. It may be available in Latino grocery stores in the U.S. If it isn't available in your area, I suppose you could use shortening, although products such as Crisco are softer than manteca. If you keep manteca in the refrigerator, you have to cut it with a knife. It is that hard. Many Mexican tortilla recipes call for lard and say that there is no substitute.

Mixing the dough

Many Honduran women mix the dough entirely with their hands directly on the countertop. This is very messy and the manteca is almost impossible to wash from your hands.

I always say that bread dough should feel like a baby's butt. Tortilla dough should be a little softer than that but not sticky. During the mixing stage, add more water if the dough seems too dry or more flour if the dough seems too sticky. The flour does not have to be completely incorporated into the dough at this point.

You can add a bit of water or flour during the kneading stage if you find you have misjudged the consistency. If the dough sticks to your hands or the pastry sheet while kneading, sprinkle both with more flour. The first rest period is not crucial − Some women skip it or leave the covered dough for hours or even put it in the refrigerator until the next day.

Shaping the balls of dough

For a thin 6" (15 cm.) tortilla, I use about 2 oz. of dough. For a larger tortilla, like for burritos, I use up to 4 oz. For thick Honduran-style tortillas, use about 3 oz. This picture shows a 2 oz., 3 oz., and 4 oz. ball from right to left (62, 85, 113 g.). They measure about 1 3/4", 2", and 2 1/4", respectively (4.5, 5, 5.75 cm.). This recipe makes about 40 oz. of dough (1.13 kg.), about 20 small or 10 very large tortillas.

Don't worry. They don't have to be exact. These measurements are just to give you an idea. If you have a little piece of dough left over, use it for your first practice tortilla.

The second rest period is important as it helps to relax the dough balls making it much easier to shape the tortillas. Because it takes some time to make the dough balls, shape the tortillas, and cook each one individually, some Hondurans do not bother to let the dough rest before starting. Most of the dough will get the required resting period just because it takes so long to make them.

Shaping the tortillas

For authentic Honduran tortillas, you would need to slap the dough back and forth between your hands and end up with perfect circles of exactly the same size every time. I can not do this, so I'll show you my easier Americanized version.

Cut several 10" circles from heavy plastic. I have a bunch because I like to make tortillas assembly-line style. I keep my plastic circles in a zip lock sandwich bag and use them over and over again. By the way, I've tried using wax paper and the paper is not strong enough. If you don't have any good strong Honduran grocery bags to cut up, you could cut up some zip lock freezer bags.

If you use a flimsier plastic, the dough will "pull" the plastic as it contracts, resulting in wrinkles like in this picture. The stiffer the plastic, the easier it will be to shape the tortilla and to release the dough from the plastic.

Place one dough ball on a circle of plastic. Cover with another circle of plastic. Begin stretching the dough by pushing outward from the center of the ball with your fingertips or the side of your hand, turning the plastic as you push to keep the dough round. If the dough bounces back after stretching, that means it needs a longer rest period.

When the dough is of an even thickness in the size that you desire, it's ready to cook. The thing to remember is that the tortilla will shrink about an inch (2.5 cm.) while cooking.


I recommend preparing half the recipe on your first try. I also recommend smaller and thicker tortillas for your first attempt. The larger and thinner the tortillas are, the harder it is to handle the dough without it folding over on itself, as it did in the picture below. This was partly because my kitchen was so hot today and because the dough was sitting out in the heat longer than usual while I took pictures. I actually had to put the dough in the refrigerator to firm it up, but this shouldn't be a problem in an air conditioned kitchen.

It really made me mad that my tortillas didn't turn out perfect today, the one time when I was taking pictures!

Baking the tortillas

Preheat a griddle or iron skillet. My griddle has to be set at the highest temperature, 425°F (220°C). Carefully pull the top plastic off. Drape the tortilla dough side over your left hand and gently pull off the remaining plastic with your right hand. This takes a little practice. If you mess up the dough, roll it back into a ball and let it rest again for at least 5-10 minutes.

Using both hands, carefully place the tortilla onto the griddle − being careful not to burn your fingers and careful that the tortilla is placed flat. If you work fast, you can push and stretch the dough if needed to shape a neater circle after it has been placed on the griddle. If part of it folds over onto itself, try to push that area flat so it will cook properly.

Cook for 1-2 minutes or until the top is bubbly and the bottom begins to show a few golden brown spots. Turn with a spatula. Honduran women turn the tortillas with only their fingers. Ouch! Cook the other side until it, too, has a few brown spots. The tortilla should look dry, not doughy. Turn again and cook a little longer, if necessary.

They cook very fast so if you are busy doing something else for more than a minute, they may burn. If the tortilla does not 'freckle' in 2 minutes, that means that your pan is not hot enough and you will end up with a dry crispy cracker instead of a tortilla. (Ask me how I know.) El Jefe and our former worker Carlos had a few laughs over my first attempts, but when they began eating 10-12 tortillas with lunch, I knew I finally had it down pat.

Most Honduran women use a small pan called a comal and cook them one at a time. I like to use a griddle and cook several at a time. Tortillas cook faster on a comal than on my griddle, so if you use a comal or a cast iron skillet, go by the look of the tortilla, not the time I have specified. Don't use your best non-stick saute pan for this − the temperature needs to be too high and since the pan will be empty part of the time, the high heat will ruin your pan. Trust me on this.

As the tortillas cook, place them in a tortilla warmer or a basket lined with a kitchen towel. They will stay warm for quite awhile. In Honduras, tortillas are usually served plain or filled with part of the meat and/or beans from the plate. We sometimes like to eat them folded around a bit of butter or salsa picante (hot sauce), Tex-Mex style. Especially when they are hot from the griddle − mmmm.

These tortillas keep very well in a ziplock bag in the freezer. When ready to use, remove from freezer, place in a towel-lined basket and let thaw a few minutes. Heat in microwave for 20-30 seconds, depending on quantity. Don't heat too long or the tortillas will be tough. They can also be wrapped in foil and reheated in the oven.

Making tortillas is a very labor intensive project. Many Honduran women make tortillas three times a day and have families of 6 to 8 to 10 people, so you can imagine how much time they spend over that hot stove. Often tortillas are made over wood burning stoves, so women suffer from the smoke as well as the heat, often getting respiratory infections and even tuberculosis. The Peace Corps and Trees, Water, & People are two of several organizations that works to provide fuel efficient, more healthful wood burning stoves to the poor of Central America.

Corn tortillas are served more often in Honduras than flour tortillas, especially in the mountain areas. I noticed that the maids I have had over the years always make the kind of tortilla (corn or flour) that they like best and claim not to know how to make the other. Amusing, huh? But when I offer to teach them, they always seem to remember. I guess the shame of having a gringa (woman from the U.S. or England) teach them how to make tortillas would be just too much to bear. ;-D

Your corn tortilla lesson will have to be another day, but don't worry, corn tortillas are easier.

October 16, 2006

Green Thumb?

Former Jade plant and African violets

I think not.

Okay, that was a lame post. My excuse: Today I made ....


Homemade poppy seed rolls

Chicken-garlic-carrot-oatmeal doggy cookies

Chocolate fudge-pecan-caramel brownies:

I'm exhausted. Not to mention that it was 90+°F (32+°C) with 87% humidity in my kitchen today. And that was before I turned on the oven.

Tomorrow I will have a recipe and photo journal for making homemade tortillas.

Al Corral

Restaurante Al Corral

No, this isn't a post about some guy named Al. Al Corral is a nice little restaurante Ceibeño (La Ceiba restaurant) − one we would affectionately call a 'hole-in-the-wall' place in the U.S. Corral is the same word in English. It's called that, I think, because it is an open air restaurant and the fence around it looks a little like a corral.

This is Jorge, the owner. He is a sweet guy. He's usually the grill cook, too. I don't know if he was just taking a night off from the grill or if this is a permanent change. His wife, who usually runs the cash register and works in the kitchen, came in while we were there, so I think he may have been filling in at the cash register for her.

This is a real family place. His son and daughter have been the waiters since they were about 10 years old and the other women working in the kitchen are probably sisters or cousins.

El Jefe and I really like this guy. We have never gone into his restaurant that he hasn't come up to shake El Jefe's hand and give me hug. He calls me "mi amor" (my love) and I like that. During the whole evening, he makes the rounds, to greet people and make sure everyone is satisfied and has everything they need. That is something very rare here in La Ceiba.

It's an outdoor restaurant with a tin roof. Only the kitchen and restroom are walled. He has expanded his little place to almost twice the size it was originally and it's almost always full when we go there. That's a very good sign. It's not unusual to go to a restaurant in La Ceiba and be the only one there.

Al Corral has rustic wooden tables and chairs. I like that. It's a refreshing change from the molded plastic tables and chairs that most places have. He also has decorations on the walls and some antique junk scattered around.

It shows that he cares − that he's trying to make his place a little different and little more interesting. Check out the television in this picture. It looks like someone made a homemade case for it. That radio is almost as big as a TV.

Here's the menu. If you click on it to enlarge it, you can see that the prices are reasonable − around L.100 ($5.29 U.S.) for most meals. A cerveza (beer) is L.22 ($1.16 U.S.) He has some interesting menu items, such as huevos de toro (huevos means eggs and toro is bull, so you can figure out the rest). Other unusual items are kidneys, livers, and turtle eggs (which are said to make the men 'eager'). I stick with the grilled chicken and El Jefe likes the grilled beef.

If you read closely, you'll see that Jorge abides by the sacred food law of Honduras. No meal includes both tortillas and tajadas (fried plantain slices), but if you want to live recklessly, you can order a side dish of tajadas for only L.20 ($1.06 U.S.) or tortillas for only L.5 ($0.26 U.S.).

Now here's the bad part. This picture is of the meat marinating in plastic tubs. These are sitting out at room temperature near the grill. One can only hope that he does such a good business that it isn't sitting there long enough to grow bacteria. Or that the grill is hot enough to burn it away.

I try not to think about this part. Plus I know that it is no different any place you go here. People just have no clue about food safety. I guess it might be better that it is sitting out before it is cooked, instead of after as is common in many restaurants?

This has been a hard article to write. I want to write a positive article about this little La Ceiba restaurant. The problem is the picture of the food. I've been looking at it for a couple of weeks and I know how it will look to you.

Here's our dinner. Remember that I told you that all Honduran food is brown or white? This picture kind of proves my point. But do you see that Jorge has added an excess of carrots to the marinated cabbage? Again, he goes beyond what is normally done. At many restaurants, you are lucky if there is one sliver of carrot in the salad. El Jefe's plate even has a green vegetable, a little jalapeño.

Regardless of how it looks, the food was pretty good and the beef was tender − that in itself is a big accomplishment in Honduras, where the meat is so incredibly tough.

The two dishes in the center accompany every meal at Al Corral. To the left is encurtido de cebollas (pickled onions) and the other is chimichurri, which is similar to a pesto sauce. Chimichurri is generally made with parsley, garlic, vinegar, oil, salt, and pepper. If you are interested, there are lots of recipes on the internet.

All in all, if you ever come to La Ceiba and want to try some real comida tipica (typical food), I highly recommend Al Corral. If you like meat, you'll probably like this place. And don't forget to tell Jorge that La Gringa sent you.

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