Sunday, August 31, 2008

Banana Dulce de Leche Eclairs

Banana Dulce de Leche Eclairs

Mmmmmm... bananas, chocolate, dulce de leche. All ingredients raised and made within the borders of Nicaragua. How can you go wrong?

While I better not make this a habit, one decadent dessert after another, this Daring Bakers Challenge was worth it.

The original recipe is Chocolate Éclairs from Pierre Hermes' Chocolate Desserts. The choux pastry I made was from this recipe, while the filling was a very banana-y pastry cream from Cupcake Bakeshop.

Dulce de leche is easily bought in a cream cheese like tub at the grocery store, although it is called 'leche de cajeta' or cream of candy, a pretty fitting title.

Banana Dulce de Leche Eclairs

This isn't by any means a traditional dessert in Nicaragua (although sometimes I'm surprised, I know French pastries have a historical home in Vietnam due to colonialism). But it is better suited to the climate than, say, a danish braid!

Pierre Hermé’s Cream Puff Dough

Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé
(makes 20-24 Éclairs)

• ½ cup (125g) whole milk
• ½ cup (125g) water
• 1 stick (4 ounces; 115g) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
• ¼ teaspoon sugar
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• 1 cup (140g) all-purpose flour
• 5 large eggs, at room temperature

1) In a heavy bottomed medium saucepan, bring the milk, water, butter, sugar and salt to the

2) Once the mixture is at a rolling boil, add all of the flour at once, reduce the heat to medium
and start to stir the mixture vigorously with a wooden spoon. The dough comes together very
quickly. Do not worry if a slight crust forms at the bottom of the pan, it’s supposed to. You
need to carry on stirring for a further 2-3 minutes to dry the dough. After this time the dough
will be very soft and smooth.

3) Transfer the dough into a bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or using your
handmixer or if you still have the energy, continue by hand. Add the eggs one at a time,
beating after each egg has been added to incorporate it into the dough.
You will notice that after you have added the first egg, the dough will separate, once again do
not worry. As you keep working the dough, it will come back all together again by the time you
have added the third egg. In the end the dough should be thick and shiny and when lifted it
should fall back into the bowl in a ribbon.

4) The dough should be still warm. It is now ready to be used for the éclairs as directed above.

1) Once the dough is made you need to shape it immediately.

2) You can pipe the dough and the freeze it. Simply pipe the dough onto parchment-lined baking
sheets and slide the sheets into the freezer. Once the dough is completely frozen, transfer the
piped shapes into freezer bags. They can be kept in the freezer for up to a month.

Banana Pastry Cream

2 cups Whole milk
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 egg yolks
¼ cup cornstarch
2 tablespoons butter
2 bananas, medium sized

1. Heat milk, ¼ cup of the sugar, the vanilla, and salt in a pan over medium until it reaches a simmer,
2. Whisk egg yolks, cornstarch, and remaining ¼ cup sugar in a medium sized bowl until combined.
3. Slowly add ½ cup of the hot milk mixture to the egg mixture, whisking continuously.
4. Add remaining milk mixture slowly while whisking.
5. Transfer back into the pan and heat over medium-high heat, whisking constantly until it thickens. It will thicken all of a sudden, give it a good whisk then take it off the heat.
6. Transfer to the bowl of an electric mixer, add the butter, and with a paddle attachment beat on medium speed for 3 minutes.
7. Transfer to a bowl, cover will plastic wrap touching the cream, and refrigerate until cool, hour or so. This can be made a day in advance.
8. Chop two fresh bananas into small chunks and fold into the pastry cream before using.

Banana Dulce de Leche Eclairs

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Pineapple & Chili Cupcakes

Pineapple Chili Cupcake
Traditional Mexican Pineapple Chili Cupcake.

Ok, maybe the Pineapple Chili cupcake isn't exactly traditional Mexican food, but eating pineapple with chili certainly is, so why don't we skip over the new interpretation and enjoy it?! I know I am.

A pineapple cupcake with chopped orange jalapeño bits and a light little cloud of pineapple cream cheese frosting to mute the heat (and a little hot caramelized pineapple on top!) are just what Mexicans would eat day in and day out, you know, if they traditionally ate cupcakes.

Pineapple Chili Cupcake Batter
Pineapple cupcake batter with innocent little sprinkles (of JALAPEÑO!)

Where did this need to start including even vegetables in cupcakes begin? Why Iron Cupcake: Earth, of course!

There's voting (between August 31st and Setpember 4th at No One Puts Cupcake in a Corner) and prizes, and of course the cupcakes themselves, how can you top that!

The donors of the prizes include: Hello, Cupcake; Head Chefs; Taste of Home; Cupcake Courier; Jessie Steele and Cake Spy (from Seattle!).

So if you like heat and if you like cupcakes, check us all out here starting next Sunday.

Pineapple Chili Cupcake

Pineapple Chili Cupcake Recipe (basis for recipe)
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla
2 small orange jalapeños finely chopped (reduced or increased depending on level of hotness desired)
1/4 cup of fresh pineapple put through a blender.

Cream together the sugar and butter or margarine. Add the eggs one at a time and beat. Add the vanilla. Add the flour and baking powder and mix together. Add the pineapple and mix.

Fill the pan just over half full. Makes about 50 mini cupcakes. Cook at 375F for 10 minutes

Pineapple Cream Cheese Frosting Recipe
8 oz cream cheese
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup fresh pineapple put through a blender


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A Cow, a Chicken and a Cultural Divide?

Cows And a Rooster on my way to work in the morning.

What is the biggest difference between all of us?

As I have lived in Nicaragua over the past while, I find myself explaining similarities and differences to many people in the US, in Europe and here in Latin America as we all ponder the other from afar.

Many of them, both things we have in common, and those that appear foreign I have already documented in this blog. As my eyes become more and more accustomed to what I see, I find less and less to blog about. But that doesn't mean that you'd find it any less surprising.

I've explained that all Americans are not millionaires and that most Nicaraguan children do go to school (and these are not children asking the questions).

But what keeps us from seeing from the world as others see it?

One issue gets down to the very wiring of our brains and how we're socialized from the time we're very young, collective versus individualistic societies.

I remember studying the history of our individualistic culture and the expansion of the west in junior high, but I bet the little girl who sang at the opening ceremony in China a couple weeks ago, and the little girl who lip synched to her voice on the television won't be hearing about anything like that in their schools. Instead they hear about how wonderful it is that they can contribute, and that two people can share in the moment instead of only one.

In an article in the New York Times, David Brooks discusses these differences, how deeply they run, and the potential economic consequences.

So what about Nicaragua? Where does it fall in the spectrum? Where is it's economic forecast?

I conducted a small sociological survey asking people in Nicaragua and the US the cow, chicken, hay question referred to in the article.

Which two of the three belong together: cow, chicken and hay.

cows and chickens

My results were somewhat surprising to me and indicative of how difficult studies can be to administer (in other words, I don't think I did so hot at the randomly selected participants section).

The idea is that those in individualistic societies reply cow and chicken because they are categorical thinkers. Those in collective societies reply cow and hay because they consider relationships.

Here are my results, please feel free to post your pick in the comments section.

Nicaragua - Cow and Hay 100%.

One exception was a Chicken and Hay answer from someone who thought that chickens needed hay down more than cows needed it down because their feet were softer, but he was definitely in the 'relationships' thinking mode.

US - Cow and Hay 57%, Cow and Chicken 43%

No Chicken and Hay answers as a first answer, which was all I took because SO many of my friends and family are die hard analysts of whatever comes their way, I would often receive two if not three answers from each person. And does growing up on a farm make a difference? Because that would explain why my grandpa is a collectivist and my grandma an individualist.

Ok, so the study wasn't that successful in indicating a divide between the US and Nicaragua, but it did give me a little food for thought (not a purposeful pun!).

I personally was a Cow and Chicken person having a life long love affair with systematic categorization. And it certainly made me feel slightly more justified in the many frustrations and continued struggles I get to have adjusting to a very different business style here in Nicaragua. Not that one is better than the other, just that, my gosh, it isn't just my imagination that we're different on a very basic level!

At the end, however, I really have simply ended up with even more questions than before. But I suppose all of us continuing to ask questions is the only way we're really ever going to bridge that cultural divide.

Friday, August 22, 2008

And the Conclusion to Nicaragua in the Olympics!

Walter first followed by the swimmers with the runners on the bottom.

And the official results of Nicaragua in the Olympics!

Walter Martinez - In the 10m Air Rifle event, he placed 50th out of 51. In the 50m Air Rifle event, he placed 55th out of 56. Way to go Walter! You were never last!!!

Dalia Torrez
- In the womens 50m freestyle (that would be swimming), she placed 55th out of 90! The incredible thing is that's only 3.61 seconds off the winner! I'd probably prune up before I made it all the way!

Omar Nunez
- In the men's 50m freestyle, he placed 75th out of 97! That put him ahead of Rwanda, Nepal and the Sudan and other land locked countries!

Jessica Aguilera - In the womens 100m Round 1 Heat 6 (we're on to running), she placed 72nd out of 85, not quite enough to qualify for finals, but much closer to it than I have gotten so far.

Juan Zeledon - In the men's 200m Round 1, he finished 62nd out of 62. Well, technically he was 62nd out of 62, but only because four others were disqualified.

Seriously though, while Nicaragua's hopes for their first Olympic medal may have to wait another four years (for some reason they don't participate in the winter Olympics), the athletes that represented Nicaragua this year worked as hard or harder than many who did receive medals.

In interview in Beijing with a Managua newspaper Jessica spoke about running races barefoot until high school to win prizes such as a can a food so that she could help her family.

What? No medal for that? Though that kind of dedication may seem incredible to us who have enough to eat that may qualify approximately 862 million people for a medal!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Literacy in Nicaragua

Rivas Public Library

Officially, the literacy rate is 77% among people of all ages, 84% for males between 15 and 24 and 89% for females between 15 and 24 here in Nicaragua (some other pages have lower estimates by about 10%).

I've spoken with many children who work in the market, and 100% of them go to public schools.

After the Sandinista revolution in the late 70's there were expansive literacy programs to teach communities of illiterate adults until the costs couldn't be borne with the war against the Contras who had the support of the US.

With all that, you would think that Nicaragua was on track to become a well educated country who would be able to change their own destiny. But on the ground, things seem a little different.

Maybe someone can read, but can they really understand what they're reading? Enough to make an informed decision? That's a big leap from literacy, but it is what would be needed to control one's own destiny.

There are very few books in the library, and other than bookstores online in Spain (which is a super expensive way to go), I've had a tough time finding good books in Spanish. Not that they don't exist, it's just they seem to always be out of print.

How do we expect a nation to control it's own destiny if it doesn't choose to read? Some people read newspapers. But all in all, there's some ability to analyze, critique and understand bias that is simply much more difficult to attain when no one reads.

I grew up in a family that reads a ton (even though my father passionately hated reading as a child and teenager). But the adults here don't really read.

So apart from family, how do people learn to love reading?

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Nicaragua in the Olympics? Who knows.

Roberto running the 400m for the University Polytecnic, Rivas

The Olympics are here.

Nicaragua was aiming to win at least one medal, but with just five athletes, two of whom don't have any events listed on the official Olympics website, it's a bit of a long shot.

Couple that with no Olympic coverage on regular TV, or on the direct TV I have (although it is on cable which isn't available where I live), it's hard to get very excited.

That's one of the toughest things about Nicaragua. The lack of communication infrastructure greatly limits their capacity for everything from getting excited about the Olympics and accurate information for elections to advertising for businesses and customers who want to look for the best deal. Looking for information is a resource and time intensive activity.

Hopefully I'll see a little of the Olympics at a friends house. Nicaraguans had been hoping to win their first medal this year (although they've competed in years past, they have yet to win any medal), but with Nicaraguan athletes difficult to even find, it's not looking good.

In the meantime they find other reasons to root for athletes from other countries such as they come from the country where a relative is working, or they just like the team's style.

The Olympics, which have so much potential, fall flat in the face of the incredible amount of energy necessary devoted to day to day life. Not quite the same as in other small, but developed countries.

If they made and Olympic sport of that, Nicaraguans would have a good shot at that first medal!

Monday, August 4, 2008

I'm Still Here!

Nothing much, just wanted to let you all know I'm still here!

We haven't had much going on at the construction site because we had some time without donations. While NPH is a wonderfully well supported organization in general, we are relying completely on donations for this construction project and so have some bumps along the way in timing.

In the last month, however, we have had some additional funds come in and we are currently in negotiations to build another house! We are making some changes, though, so it's not a straightforward, 'See this house? Build us one just like it' kind of thing.

New leaves budding. This tree lost all it's leaves in two days last week and now has almost completely regrown all new ones. Fall and winter sure go by quickly in this climate!

In the meantime, I haven't gone on any trips, cooked anything grand (a few delicious things, but they were all ugly), or had any strange experiences (chalk that up to getting used to life here, not life as you would probably expect it). I'm just enjoying the house that Germans built (the house I'm renting) and weekends of free time.

"Wildlife'' abounds around the house, as in spiders, butterflies, etc. I've had two hummingbirds fly into the house in the last week. While they're cute, it's a bit of a chore to get them back outside.

This weekend Roberto decided to cut down some coconuts for the water inside and I just wandered around the garden and worked on photography.

Chopping down coconuts with a machete. He got two from this tree and then eight from another tree where the coconuts were growing at eye level.

You especially have to be careful doing anything in the garden when it contains trees such as this one!

Chopping open the coconut with the machete (yes I did it and it wasn't too difficult, definitely easier than wood chopping with a heavy ax!)

Sweet water from inside. Honestly, I don't like it, but it is REALLY healthy for you! (Yeah, not enough to actually make me drink it!)

In the evening, after a rainshower and as the light was fading fast, Volcano Concepcion erupted a little and send a plume of ash towards Potosi, just north of us in San Jorge.

Rainshowers on Ometepe Island

You know, just your standard weekend!

Eruption of Volcano Concepcion August 3rd, 2008