El Escarabajo Dorado (a guest post)

Image source: José Luis Celada Euba

Image source: José Luis Celada Euba

Today’s guest post about a humorous turned enlightening moment had while living in Peru, comes to us from Fabianne, a high school Spanish teacher, world traveler, and the blogger behind “Blogging Is Narcissistic But…

Last year I shared an apartment in the noisy city of Trujillo, Peru with two Spanish roommates. One night, I found myself in the kitchen when a big, scary something started frantically buzzing around the room, smacking its chunky body against the walls, seemingly desperate to escape. Meanwhile, the window was, as always, wide open to cleanse the space of my roommates’ tobacco habit. I let out a little yelp and waved my hands in the air, which only seemed to offer the opposite of my intended message as it zoomed toward me in a state of panic.

I heard one of my roommates say, “She’s shouting in English again,” and the two of them came rushing to my rescue.

Cucaracha?” (Yes, that is actually how you say cockroach) asked one.

“No! I don’t know what this is!” I gasped as it propelled its seemingly light-brown body toward us. All three of us screamed simultaneously and ran for the kitchen door. Mar shut it behind us and we laughed at ourselves.

“What is that?” she shouted. “It’s enormous!”

At the time, I didn’t know the word for moth in Spanish. (Now I do. Polilla. I’ll never forget it. High stakes situations make for great learning experiences.) So I opted for the word for butterfly because once I read that most insects that appear to be butterflies are actually moths. I figured it was my best bet.

Una mariposa?” They asked, skeptical.

Algo como una mariposa pero con un cuerpo gordo,” (“Something like a butterfly but with a fat body,”) I explained. They both stared at me.

“Well we can’t just stand out here,” my other roommate Vanessa said, entering the kitchen and heroically grabbing the broom. She struck at the fat-bodied butterfly, which was still making circles around the kitchen, using two hands to wield her domestic weapon. Mar and I screamed and laughed from a safe distance, when suddenly, after one swift sweep of the broom, we watched it come spiraling down. She got it. It wasn’t dead, but injured beyond flight, rattling on the kitchen floor. Vanessa leaned over her kill to get a closer look, and let out a little gasp.

“It’s not a butterfly!” she shouted, almost angry. Yes, that much I knew, I just lacked the necessary vocabulary. “It’s an escarabajo!” A beetle, she said.

Escarabajo!” I shouted, not particularly out of concern but mostly because I love that word. So onomatopoeic. When I hear it, I picture a little black beetle scraping and digging through the dirt, making a whispery noise that sounds like, “escarabajo.” I actually only know the word because a little black one crawled into my backpack one time, and a Spaniard pointed and shouted, “Escarabajo!” I remember she told me not to kill it because “los escarabajos no son malos.” They’re not bad. Fair enough.

It turns out the escarabajo in our kitchen was a bit different than the one in my backpack. “It’s a golden beetle,” Vanessa explained. Escarabajo dorado.

I had never heard of a golden beetle and didn’t care too much until she said, “It’s a symbol of immortality.”

For some reason those words resonated with me. To be fair, this is a girl who lit the end of a small branch and waved it around our apartment to expel bad energy, and who charges her crystals by moonlight (though I know of no better way), and while I love her and admire her earthy spirit, I usually remain unaffected by her beliefs. This is not because I claim to possess superior spiritual ideology, just that I’m kind of lazy when it comes to these things. Afterlife? Can’t be bothered…But this time I felt bad. Was I an accomplice to the murder of a bug that only wanted to offer us immortality?

“It’s suffering,” Vanessa said looking at me seriously, “and you have to kill it. I did my part.”

“I don’t like to kill things!” I protested. She shot me a look of death. I get it. OK.

Both of my roommates returned to their respective rooms. The golden beetle squirmed on the floor, its gem-like shell glistening under the fluorescent kitchen lights. Not knowing what to do, I swept it into a dustpan and tipped it out our seven-story kitchen window, hoping maybe it would catch flight.

“It committed suicide,” I announced loud enough for Vanessa to hear, though she didn’t respond.

Later that night, I Google searched “golden beetle.” I found various articles about the insect, my favorite from a gardener saying she is both frustrated and delighted when she finds these beautiful pests among her plants. Another funny bug-nerd article said something like, “Everyone keeps talking about golden beetles.” Oh yeah. People just won’t shut up about them! Nowhere did I find anything about immortality, though the words that affected me most came from an article about insect collections. It recommends that you not add the golden beetle to your collection as it loses its golden color once it dries out, saying, “these bugs are most beautiful kept alive.” Ouch.

Agua de Berenjena (Eggplant Water)

eggplant-water

Today is Spanish Friday so this post is in Spanish. If you participated in Spanish Friday on your own blog, leave your link in comments. Scroll down for English translation!

Con el tiempo Carlos va tomando más responsibilidad en su salud. Hay un edad cuando uno se da cuenta que el pan dulce es para de vez en cuando y no cada día, y lamentablemente esos días están aquí para Carlos y yo.

Una de las preocupaciones Carlos tiene es sobre el colesterol porque es un problema hereditario para él, (y bueno, un amor para hamburguesas no ayuda.)

Recientemente Carlos mencionó la reducción del colesterol a su hermana y ella recomendó el agua de berenjena. Ella dijo que su suegra corta una berenjena en pedazos (con la piel), y la pone en una pichel de agua durante la noche. Durante los próximos días, se bebe una taza de agua berenjena cada día.

Busque alrededor de la internet y parece que esto es un remedio casero muy conocido en la comunidad Latina para todo tipo de problemas de salud. ¿Alguna vez has oído hablar de Agua de Berenjena? ¿Lo has probado?

[ENGLISH TRANSLATION]

As Carlos grows older he takes more and more responsibility with his health. There’s an age when one realizes that pan dulce is a once-in-awhile food, not an everyday food, and unfortunately those days are here for Carlos and myself.

One of Carlos’s concerns is about his cholesterol because cholesterol problems are hereditary in his family, (and well, a love of hamburgers doesn’t help anything.)

Recently Carlos mentioned reducing cholesterol to his sister and she recommended Eggplant Water. She said her mother-in-law cuts an eggplant in pieces (with the skin), and she puts it in a pitcher of water overnight. Over the next few days, her suegra drinks a cup of the Eggplant Water each day.

I looked around the internet and it seems this is a well-known home remedy for all kinds of health issues in the Latino community. Have you heard of Eggplant Water? Have you tried it?

Tamales y Creencias

tamal-pollo-salsa-roja

Today is Spanish Friday so this post is in Spanish. If you participated in Spanish Friday on your own blog, leave your link in comments. Scroll down for English translation!

Ayer no tuve tiempo por escribir para Spanish Friday porque estaba haciendo tamales para una reunion que voy a tener con mi familia. Este año hice tamales de pollo en salsa roja y también tamales de rajas con queso. Yo estaba un poco nerviosa porque cambié muchas cosas este año. Para los vegetarianos en la familia en vez de usar manteca en la masa, usé aceite. Y en vez de caldo de pollo usé caldo de verduras. Déjame darte un consejo que aprendí: Cuando utilizas el aceite en tu masa, cocinar el aceite primero en una olla. Traer el aceite a hervir por un minuto y luego dejar que se enfríe. En este video, la señora dice que da un mejor sabor.

Este año también usé MASECA para tamales porque mi tienda no tenía MASECA normal (y en mi opinión, la textura fue mejor – es un poco más gruesa.)

Las proporciones aproximadas que utilicé para mi masa vegetariana (porque alguien pidió que la compartiera) fueron:

1 2/3 tazas de aceite de canola (“pre-cocinado”)
32 oz de caldo de verduras (marca Swanson)
4 a 6 tazas de MASECA Tamal (Lo que dice “para hacer deliciosos TAMALES”)
1 a 2 cucharaditas de polvo para hornear de doble acción
1 a 2 cucharaditas de sal
1/4 a 1/2 taza de salsa roja (mi receta está aquí)

(¡Lo siento que estos son sólo aproximaciones, ya que no escribo esto mientras yo cocinaba!)

Primero mezclé la MASECA y polvo para hornear con la mano. Añadir sal al gusto. (Cuando puse una pizca de la masa seca en mi lengua, sabía sólo un poco salada.) Añadir el aceite y mezclar con la mano. Añadir la salsa y luego poco a poco el caldo de verduras. Mezclar con la mano hasta que la masa esté bien combinada. Dejé la masa a temperatura ambiente cubierta con plástico por una hora, no sé si eso hace diferencia o no. Esta cantidad de masa fue suficiente para hacer alrededor de 36 tamales de tamaño mediano.

Finalmente, usé el consejo que aprendí en el blog La Mija Chronicles de Lesley Tellez. Ella dice que en México hay una creencia de que si quieres que salgan bien tus tamales, tienes que tratar bien a tu olla. Algunas personas atan tiras de hoja de maíz a los mangos de la olla, cuenten chisme a la olla o cantan a ella. Según Lesley esto evita “mala onda”. Qué interesante, ¿verdad?

¿Cuāles consejos, secretos o creencias sobre como hacer tamales tienes tú?

[ENGLISH TRANSLATION]

Yesterday I didn’t have time to write for Spanish Friday because I was making tamales for a family get together. This year I made tamales de pollo en salsa roja and also tamales de rajas con queso. I was a little nervous because I changed a lot of things this year. For the vegetarians in the family I used oil instead of lard. And instead of chicken broth I used vegetable broth. Let me give you a tip I learned: When you use oil in your masa, “cook” the oil first in a pot. Bring the oil to a boil for a minute and then let it cool. In this video, the woman says it gives the oil a better flavor.

This year I also used MASECA for tamales because my store was out of the regular MASECA (and in my opinion the texture was better – it’s a little coarser.)

The approximate proportions I used for my vegetarian masa (because someone asked me to share) were:

1 2/3 cups “pre-cooked” canola oil
32 ounces vegetable broth (Swanson brand)
4 to 6 cups MASECA Tamal (the one that says “para hacer deliciosos TAMALES”)
1 to 2 teaspoons double acting baking powder
1 to 2 teaspoons salt
1/4 to 1/2 cup salsa roja (my recipe is here)

First mix the MASECA and baking powder by hand. Add salt to taste. (When I tasted a pinch on my tongue, it tasted just slightly salty.) Add the oil and mix in by hand. Add the salsa and then the vegetable broth little by little. Mix by hand until everything is well combined. I let the masa sit at room temperature covered in plastic wrap for an hour, I don’t know if that makes a difference or not. This amount of masa made about 36 medium-sized tamales.

Finally, I used the advice I learned on the blog La Mija Chronicles by Lesley Tellez. She says in Mexico there’s a belief that if you want the tamales to come out well, you have to treat the pot well. Some people tie strips of corn husk to the handles of the pot, tell the pot gossip, or sing to it. According to Lesley this helps avoid any “mala onda.” Interesting, right?

What advice, secrets or beliefs do you have about tamales?

Día de los Muertos 2014

altar-2014-1

This year marks our 4th year of celebrating Día de los Muertos by creating an altar to remember passed loved ones. In 2010 when I first set up an altar and Carlos asked me to take it down because it made him sad, I completely understood and dismantled it. Día de los Muertos is called Día de los Difuntos in El Salvador and most people don’t see it as a day of celebration. In El Salvador it’s more a day of mourning – so Carlos wasn’t into it.

I thought that would be our first and last altar but the next year my boys remembered the tradition and asked if we were going to build an altar. When I explained that it had made Daddy sad to see his father on the altar they asked if we could make one for a beloved dog who had passed – and so we celebrated the life of Ginger the dog that year.

Last year was a turning point because not only did Carlos say he felt comfortable with me creating an altar for his passed loved ones, I also felt comfortable enough to include passed loved ones from my side of the family.

As I set up this year’s ofrenda I realized how therapeutic Día de los Muertos is for healing. It feels good to be able to look at a photo of my grandfather or Carlos’s abuelos and smile, remembering them.

altar-2014-2

SUN BELT EXPRESS – immigration, humor and corazón

Screen Shot 2014-09-17 at 4.31.07 PM

When I was contacted two years ago by producer Evan Buxbaum about his script for SUN BELT EXPRESS, I was hesitant. He wanted to make a film about undocumented immigrants that “could find some of the humor and light, in what is typically a very dark subject.” I asked myself, is that possible? Can one mix humor and such a serious topic?

In the end I agreed to be a beta-reader because Evan seemed very sincere and I thought it was wise of him to verify authenticity in the dialogue and seek opinions of those close to the topic at hand.

I read his script in its entirety and ended up loving it. Evan thanked me for the feedback and I hadn’t really thought much about his project since then, but this week Evan contacted me again – the film has been completed and will be premiering in the U.S. this October. (Check www.sunbeltexpressmovie.com for locations and dates.)

Today I had the opportunity to watch the full-length finished film and found it very much worth sharing with all of you. My review is below, but in short, I encourage you all to support the film and go see it if you’re able to. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

(Full disclosure: As stated, I was a beta-reader for the SUN BELT EXPRESS script and as such you can see my name in the film credits under general “thanks”, however this review reflects only my honest opinion.)

Review – SUN BELT EXPRESS

Allen King (Tate Donovan) is a divorced Ethics professor in southern Arizona who, accused of plagiarism and fired, is forced to commute daily to his new teaching job across the border in Mexico. The money he makes isn’t enough to keep up with his own bills or car maintenance, let alone meet the financial demands of his ex-wife (Rachel Harris) or pay his teenage daughter’s private school tuition. To supplement his income, Allen gets wrapped up in smuggling Mexican immigrants across the border in the trunk of his beat up 1972 Volvo.

Things get complicated when his teenage daughter (India Ennenga) mistakenly thinks her father is doing something altruistic and unexpectedly tags along for the ride. Add in a pregnant ex-girlfriend (Ana de la Reguera), three Mexican men in the trunk, two corrupt U.S. Border Patrol agents, and an overheated car that breaks down at the worst possible moment, and you have a situation that would seem to be no laughing matter – but that’s where you’d be wrong.

Mexicans have a dicho – “Al mal tiempo, buena cara” – which means put on a good face during bad times. Be positive; it’s an attitude shared by many Latin Americans. And while most films on immigration show the heartbreaking reality, the difficult choices made, the perilous journey – SUN BELT EXPRESS is a rare exploration into the humor of this mostly solemn situation.

Talk long enough to a person who immigrated illegally to the United States – more often than not, they will have a funny story or two to tell about their journey. My own husband has told me stories about a guy who accompanied him and carried a bottle of Pepto-Bismol like a hip flask which he regularly took sips from “to help with his nerves.” During another part of his journey, he wasn’t able to turn off a broken sink in a motel bathroom and chaos ensued.

For me, the brilliance of the film SUN BELT EXPRESS is found in moments like this. The dialogue between “passengers” Rafi and Miguel in the trunk is the main highlight. Rafi (Oscar Avila), who is somewhat fat, makes a stressful situation even more stressful for Miguel (Arturo Castro), who happens to be claustrophobic. If lack of space wasn’t enough of a problem, Rafi is quite generous with stories about all the adventures he’s had trying to cross the border before, although he’s only been caught “cinco, seis veces…o lo mucho siete.” The chemistry between these two actors is fantastic, and the friendship that blooms between them on screen made me smile as much as the well-acted humorous lines which are never crass but full of corazón.

SUN BELT EXPRESS contains plenty of entertainment in the form of humor, but it’s well-balanced by a bigger message. Serious themes including morality and political corruption are an essential part of the plot but the film never comes across as preachy. In the end, the deeply flawed protagonist redeems himself and the film succeeds at traversing the difficult border between heartfelt humor and hurtful ridicule when dealing with extremely sensitive subject matter. SUN BELT EXPRESS is a daring, fresh take on the immigration journey which is just as likely to spark important conversation as it is laughter.

Sopa de Pollo Salvadoreña

Sopa de Pollo Salvadoreña

Carlos has been sick for a week, and on Friday he was so sick that he even took off work. I’ve been doing every home remedy I know of to make him better – Vicks Vaporub on the feet before bed, honey lemon tea, vaporizers, vitamin C, and just plain old bed rest, but nothing seemed to help very much. (I did all these remedios caseros on myself too for prevention and so far, so good.)

On Saturday Carlos asked me to make him Sopa de Pollo, but he didn’t want the Bolivian Chicken Soup recipe I always use. He asked if I’d try to make Salvadoran Chicken Soup “with lots of vegetables” this time. Obviously he was needing a little extra apapachamiento! Of course I always love making a new Salvadoran dish and seeing the way his eyes light up when it’s a success, so I did some research, looked at a handful of recipes, and then headed to the grocery store to get what I needed.

Before the soup was even ready, Carlos was getting excited. He kept calling out to me from the living room where he was on the sofa covered in a blanket, “It smells so good. It smells like I remember…” Then when it was ready, I put the bowl before him at the table and he smiled, “It looks like how I remember!” … Then he tasted it, and I’m not exaggerating, he stood up, kissed me (on the neck so I wouldn’t get his germs) and told me he loved me. Jajaja.

Here’s my recipe in case you know a sick salvadoreño or salvadoreña who could use a little “TLC”, (Cuidado amoroso y tierno.)

Sopa de Pollo Salvadoreño

You need:

10 chicken thighs (boneless, skinless)
2 medium tomatoes, quartered
3 corn cobs, broken in half
1/2 1 small cabbage, cut in chunks
cilantro
basil, (fresh, not dry)
2 to 3 celery stalks with leaves
2 cups baby carrots, (or cut up carrots)
3 green onions, (roots cut off)
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 small potatoes, cut into bite-size chunks
1 small zucchini, skin removed and chopped in bite-size pieces
1/2 cup uncooked rice or small pasta like “conchitas” (little shells)
1 tsp. salt, plus to taste
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. achiote (ground annatto)

Directions:

1. Assemble and prepare all your ingredients, (wash and chop vegetables, etc.)

Note: I used all boneless, skinless chicken thighs because Carlos prefers dark meat and it gives the stock a better flavor, but you can use a whole chicken cut in pieces (remove skin – bones optional as some people like to “chupar el hueso”), or substitute some chicken breasts. As for the vegetables, feel free to experiment. For example, some people use yucca instead of potatoes, and some add chayote/güisquil, broccoli, cauliflower, and/or green pepper.

2. In a large stock pot over medium high heat, add the chicken plus enough water to cover by about 2 inches.

3. Add to the pot: a handful of cilantro, a handful of basil, celery stalks with leaves, garlic, tomatoes, green onions, 1 tsp. salt, cumin, pepper, and achiote.

4. Simmer for 20 minutes or until chicken is completely cooked. Use a slotted spoon to remove and then discard the cilantro, basil, celery, tomatoes and green onions. Use a small sieve to skim off any foam.

5. Add the rice (or pasta), corn cobs, potatoes, and carrots. Cook covered until rice is cooked and vegetables are tender.

6. Remove cover. Add cabbage and zucchini. Simmer for a minute or two and then remove from heat. Allow to cool slightly and then taste. Add additional salt as desired. (I prefer to let each person add more salt to their own individual portion.)

7. Ladle into bowls and top with cilantro if desired. (I like to eat all the meat and vegetables out of it and then eat the broth with crushed Ritz crackers.)

Buen provecho!

Hand it Over: Cultural Differences in Giving

Image source: Ian Sane

Image source: Ian Sane

After 15 years of marriage, Carlos and I have both compromised a lot. Some of the compromises are not on personal preferences, but on cultural differences – which tend to be a bit more complicated to sort out. Sometimes the belief in the rightness of our own way of doing something is so strong that our kids are forced to navigate two different responses to the same situation, depending on which parent they’re interacting with. (Such is the life of a bi-cultural child!)

An excellent example of cultural differences Carlos and I still haven’t quite hammered out yet – the art of giving something to somebody. This may be something you do on a daily basis and you don’t think twice about how you do it – but in our household, you must.

You see, in the United States, when giving something to someone in a casual environment, (at home with one’s family), it’s quite normal to toss the item to the person requesting said item. A roll of toilet paper, a towel, a pillow, an apple, the remote control, a chancla – all of these things are appropriate for tossing. Obviously one wouldn’t toss anything that could be easily damaged or spilled, but everything else is fair game.

In El Salvador, (at least according to Carlos), such casual tossing of items is disrespectful to the person receiving the item. I can understand in formal situations. I can understand not tossing something, perhaps, to a grandmother or a visiting guest – but to close family? At home? Something completely unbreakable? Carlos believes in absolutely no tossing whatsoever of anything to anyone at any time, and gets highly offended just seeing it happen, even when he’s not involved.

This leaves my children with an unspoken set of rules to follow:

1. Tossing to mom = OK
2. Tossing to dad = forbidden
3. Tossing to mom in front of dad = forbidden

When Carlos isn’t home and the boys and I are watching T.V., I might say, “Hey, could you toss me a pillow?” – One of the boys will then literally toss me a pillow. No big deal.

When Carlos is home and we’re all gathered in the living room to watch a movie, I might make the same request. (I’m always needing pillows for some reason.) The boys, knowing Carlos is right there, will get up and hand it to me. If the boys forget and toss the pillow to me, no matter how gently, Carlos will say, “Hey! Get up and hand it to her. You know I don’t like that.” And whichever son threw it to me will have to get up, take the pillow back, and hand it to me properly.

My only other encounter with “the art of giving” was in Tae Kwon Do classes. My masters (teachers) were Korean and in Korean culture it’s also rude to toss things – particularly to someone older than yourself. Not only that, but it’s considered disrespectful and insulting to hand things to someone, or receive things from someone, with only one hand. If you’re younger, (or lower ranking in some way, like if you’re giving something to a boss), you should be holding the item with two hands when you give it to them. If the item is very small, it’s permitted to hold it in your right hand while supporting the forearm with the left hand. (This also applies to handshakes!)

What have been your experiences in “the art of giving”? What cultural differences still cause problems in your bi-cultural household?