Wednesday, December 29, 2010

What we eat here...

I've been asked by a lot of people what we eat here. Many people are under the mistaken impression that the local cuisine is spicy and similar to Mexican food. In fact, the typical food here is quite bland compared to what we are used to from the States. Beans, rice, and tortillas are staple food items for the people here. To have meat with a meal is a rare thing and usually saved for special occasions.

One of the foods El Salvador is famous for is pupusas. A pupusa is a thick corn tortilla that has been stuffed and fried. Most of the time the ingredients they are stuffed with are beans or cheese or a combination of them. There are also various greens or edible flowers that they place inside of them or sometimes even various meats. They are served with a tomato sauce and 'curtido' (a pickled cabbage slaw) on the side and eaten with your hands. Our family loves pupusas and is blessed to have a standing invitation to the home of sister Reina every Sunday night for her marvelous pupusas.

Our family has our own variety of tortillas and beans and cheese that we eat on
a regular basis at home. We buy a brand of tortillas called "Rapiditas" which are thin flour tortillas that come with 10 in a package for $1.00. We also buy foil pouches of refried red beans and a white cheese called "quesillo" that is similar to mozzarella cheese. We spread a layer of beans on half of the tortilla, put a small slice of the quesillo on it, and roll up the tortilla. Then heat them in the microwave for a brief time and they are ready to go. Monte and Erin prefer theirs with a little bit of hot sauce (similar to Louisiana Red) and we also like them with a side of Latin cream (like sour cream but waaaaaay better!) to dip them in. Our family eats these as a meal at least 4 or 5 times a week. It's a convenient meal and economical as well. I have to say, I never thought my family would be happy with a meatless meal as often as we are, but we've found it to be very satisfying. And if we have some lettuce, onion or tomato handy we add it in as well.

I have found that we are much happier with our beef products if I buy them in San Salvador when we make trips there. The ground beef I have bought in La Palma would never turn brown no matter how long I cooked it. So now we buy it in San Salvador, baggie it into smaller portions, and freeze it.

We do have special occasions when I have fixed things like lasagna and poppy seed chicken but because the ingredients for these are more expensive, we limit how often we enjoy them. And then when we do get to indulge in them, we really appreciate and enjoy them.

My own personal cooking skills have had to expand and adapt to the environment. It's quite pricey to buy boneless skinless chicken breasts here so it's better to buy a whole chicken or a quartered chicken and do the work yourself. The chicken I bought to cook for Christmas came with a bit of a surprise.
I bought it from a lady in town selling chickens out of the back of her pickup. She sat on the curb with a notebook tracking sales and another lady was in the pickup with a large 50 gallon drum filled with a slurry of ice and freshly butchered chickens. I asked the lady with the notebook if the chickens were fresh and she said yes--they were killed that morning--and that they'd still be warm except she'd placed them in the ice. She had the lady in the pickup hold up a big one for me to see and said the smaller ones were $8 and the larger ones were $10. I told her I'd take a big one and she double bagged it for me and I headed home. I knew the chicken still had the neck on it but was surprised to find when I got ready to cook it that there was a little more than the neck still attached. Luckily I had Monte here to assist in removing the rest of the head prior to cooking the chicken. Then Monte also removed it from the bones so that I could make it into a casserole. This was one big chicken and the meat from it more than filled a 9x13 pan when Monte removed it. I will definitely buy more chicken from this lady if I see her selling them again.

There's a man who comes to town once a week to sell fresh seafood caught that morning at the coast. We've bought from him several times--shrimp or fish fillets--and he now will stop at our house if we don't come out and he'll make sure we don't want anything that week. His seafood is very good and he's very courteous and helpful. If we ask for two pounds of shrimp he'll bring the scale to two pounds and then usually throw another handful in for free. He usually comes on Saturdays but he came on Friday before Christmas because of the holiday. We wanted to buy a fish fillet and some shrimp to put in the freezer. As I went out to his truck with him, I took freshly baked cupcakes for him and the guys who work with him. In return, he gave me four whole fish--one for everyone in our family. One of the guys in the truck scaled it and gutted it and placed them in a bag for me. I wasn't sure how to cook them exactly but was able to google and come up with some answers.
We washed them, floured and salted them and placed garlic and onion in the cavity and then fried them. I made some 'typico' rice to go on the side and we had a delicious lunch. We will DEFINITELY buy these fish again and next time will make more of a 'salsa' to stuff them with using onions, garlic, green peppers, and tomatoes. But it was a fun cooking experiment and a delicious one as well.

We have all lost weight while living here. Partly because we walk nearly everywhere--and it really is usually uphill both ways! Partly because we are eating less food than we used to. And partly just because there is not as much of a variety of food available. No Braum's or Culver's here. No Babe's onion rings here. No Big Macs here. Our family plays a game sometimes when we're craving food from back home. We each imagine that we're back home and go through and choose our entire meal including appetizer, main course, sides, dessert, and beverage and they can all be from different places. Today I'd pick onion rings from Babe's (the one on North Main street cause they're the best) and an Asian Salad from Del Rio and a raspberry lemonade from Olive Garden. Dessert? Anything yummy and chocolatey will do. :)

Monday, December 27, 2010

An opportunity...

Okay, I apologize. I've done a horrible job at blogging lately. The reasons are numerous, but mostly just that things got hectic around here and my time was spent in other areas. I need to be more diligent about making sure I post something a few times a week, even if it's just a photo of some of the things going on. For those of you who look regularly to my blog, I'll work harder on doing that.

To catch you up, we had a group from the States here the first full week of December and enjoyed having them with us. My dad was in the group and stayed with us instead of at the hotel with the group. That was fun for all of us, as we got to have more time with him. The kids enjoyed it especially because most mornings he walked to the hotel to have breakfast with the group and the kids took turns joining him for his early morning walk and for breakfast. There were multiple evangelism opportunities that week, with lessons going on in La Palma, San Ignacio, and in Ocotepeque. We also got to make another trip to Chuntrun (see if you don't remember where that is) with the group and had another chance to love on the kids and women there. During that time we became aware of a situation that we want to try to help with and I'd like to ask you to be praying about it.

This is Dora. This beautiful girl graduated from 6th grade last November. (School years here run from January to November.) Because school in Chuntrun only goes to 6th grade, this 14 year old girl has completed all of the school she can. It is an hour or so for her to walk into San Ignacio to go to school and it's just too dangerous and time-consuming. So, her lot in life is to work at home helping her parents with household chores and childcare of her younger siblings and wait for the time when she will have babies of her own--probably sooner than most of us would wish for her. She made good grades and would like to go to school but doesn't have the opportunity because of where she lives.

After we returned home that night we began talking about Dora's situation and whether there's any way we can help. The Christian school here is expanding next year and adding 7th grade. As we began to talk about options, we realized we have enough space to be able to house her here during the week and she could return home to her family on weekends. This would mean opportunities for education and a life beyond what she'd ever been told was possible.

Three of Dora's aunts are members of the church in San Ignacio and I spoke with them. I told them what we were offering and that it would include a place for her to live during the week and all her meals included, free schooling, free school supplies, and clothing. (We believe we can find people who would be willing to help with the funds for her scholarship and expenses so we made these promises based on that belief.) The aunts were very excited about this opportunity and said they would talk to their brother, Dora's dad, but that they were afraid he would say no because he needs her to help with household duties and childcare.

Sure enough, he and her mom said they wouldn't allow it. We have not yet had the opportunity to talk to them personally--all communication has been through the aunts-- but we are prayerful that we can do that soon. We realize that if they do refuse, there is nothing we can do, but we would like to at least have the opportunity to meet them and to let them meet us and talk to us before we walk away from the chance.

Dora was here last week (at the church building in La Palma) while all the kids from Chuntrun came in to get new shoes paid for by various donors from the States. While here, we could see something different in her eyes. She was looking around and talked to Ruth a bit, and seemed very interested in things. I held back tears several times as I watched her taking things in and noticed her surveying the school building and our family. She knows about the opportunity that we have offered her, and she knows that so far her parents have refused. To be quite frank, the emotion I felt was anger. I was angry at her parents who are selfish enough to deny their daughter a chance for a life beyond having babies and hard labor. If that's what she chooses, I could accept it, but I can't, I HATE that she doesn't get a say in it--that she is forced into that life! I know it happens all around the world every day, but this is a time when we have a chance to change it. We are offering her an education and a way to change her life and her family's life and her parents won't even consider it.

So in the next week, I am making arrangements for me and Ruth to go back to Chuntrun for a day. The ladies there asked me to come back again soon, and this is a chance to hopefully meet Dora's parents. The plan is that we will go back and have a Bible study there for the ladies and be able to visit all the homes there as well. At least one of the sisters from San Ignacio has said she'll go with us. Please be praying as we make these arrangements. Be praying for a safe trip and for open hearts and for Dora's parents to make the best decision for her.

In the meantime, we have put out 'feelers' to find other girls who are possibly in the same situation as Dora, and have come up with a couple of possibilities. We are in the process of talking to their parents and at least one is very interested. If this happens, it will mean some changes for our family, but imagine for a moment the different it will mean in the future of these girls. They've thought their whole lives that 6th grade is the last grade they can ever study and after that, they have babies. That's it. Now, they're presented with options. They're welcomed into a family with a mom and a dad and they become part of a church family and are introduced to Jesus Christ. Their entire lives and eternal future could change with this decision. Gives me goosebumps and brings tears to my eyes to think of the possibilities. School starts in about a month here so arrangements need to be finished in the next couple of weeks if this is to happen. God seems to be opening doors for this work and we would ask you to please be prayerful of these opportunities and help us to be attuned to His will in all of this.

Dios le bendiga,