Monday, July 30, 2012

Cena de Panama (Panamanian Dinner)

I woke up in the morning and headed to the grocery store with my list in hand. Since I was fortunate to be kid free for this trip, it was  a quick in and out. When I got home, I jumped right in making the food for our dinner. The first thing I did was slice up a steak and marinate it in salsa for Carne en Palito

After doing some other prep work for the rest of the dishes I had planned, I was hungry. I mean REALLY hungry. The only reason that I am telling you this is because I sat down with a bowl of Thai noodles, which I made the day before. Yes, I cannot stop eating Thai food. I felt like I was cheating on Panama to be snacking on Thai food only hours before I was to be enjoying a Panamanian meal. I actually asked myself, "Is this being fair to Panama?" At any rate, I hope that Panama won't mind, but I simply cannot get enough of Thailand. With that said, I have thoroughly enjoyed Panama and it has made it's way to the list of places that I want to visit in reality, not just in fantasy.   

After spending a couple of hours in the kitchen, the table was set. I had placed our art work, the flag that we made and the books that we borrowed on the buffet so that we could enjoy them during dinner. 

I posted this next photo on my Facebook page yesterday and asked if anyone knew what they were. We did have someone guess the right answer, chayote. Then, I said that I would give my reviews. We made corn with chayote and I will admit, I was worried, it's hard for me to go out on a limb sometimes and try something new, but it was SO yummy! I went back for more (and am eager to eat the leftovers). If you are fortunate to be able to get these at your local grocery, I highly recommend trying this dish.

We also made arroz con pina. This is a drink, similar to the raspados that we made, in that it has a rice base. Instead of strawberry, the arroz con pina, uses rice and pineapple, cooking the rice right in pineapple juice. The flavor was delicious, but the texture was bit grainy for us. We also served up ice water with lime slices to drink with our meal. 

The main dish (for the non meat eaters) was a black bean pie. This is a layered dish, with beans, onions, salsa, cheese and tortillas. As you may have guessed, it was full of yummy. Aiden even had some of the leftovers for breakfast, it's *that* good. 

When I was searching for meal options, I kept stumbling across empanadas. We made empandas for our Cuban dinner and they were SO good, that we wanted to have them again. I know that it seems strange to have a pie for the meal along with mini "pies" for a side, but when given the option of eating empanadas, we just couldn't say no. For the meat eaters, there were empanadas filled with ground beef, onion, cheese and spices. For the non meat eaters, there were empanadas filled with potato, onion, broccoli and spices (chili, cumin, coriander, oregano, paprika, salt and just a pinch of sugar).  

The little frogs that we made were scattered around the table to watch us eat. 
After eating the delicious meal, we followed it with a dessert of pineapple wedges. One thing that I love about summer is that fruit is in abundance and it is a fantastic dessert option. 

We listened to some Panamanian radio, streaming free online. I asked the Panama trivia and we reflected on our Panamanian tour, and discussed what was next for our little globe spinning family. 

Did you try any new foods over the weekend? How about sampling food from another culture? Or did you harvest some fresh food from your backyard garden? Come on people, I wanna know what YOU ate :) 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Tree Frogs of Panama

As many of you know by now, I love using Scupley. After feeling like I was becoming a bit too obsessed with Scupley, I decided to take a break from sculpting type projects. When I did sculpt, I tried a new kind of clay and didn't care for it much, while it was easier to use because it was softer, it was messier and cracked as it dried. (See it here.)

I decided that it had been long enough and it was time to buy some sculpey. We made a trip to the craft store and loaded our basket up with some Sculpey, but then, we stumbled upon something else. Model Magic made by Crayola. Air drying, soft sculpting clay. Whoa! I decided that since it felt so soft through the package, it would be far easier for my littles to work with. It was a little bit more expensive per package, but there are 4 oz in a package as compared to 2 oz of Scupley, so really, it's the better price. 

While learning about The Red Eyed Tree Frog from the book that we borrowed from the library, we knew we'd want to do a tree frog project. While we were doing our Panama research, we also learned about The Panamanian Golden Frog. The tree frogs in Panama are all suffering due to a fungus that came to the Rainforest in the 1990s, but Panamanian golden frog is critically endangered because of it, and has become a national symbol of Panama. Some believe that when a Golden frog dies, it turns to gold. 

I pulled out my "special" craft tablecloth for the occasion since I had no idea what kind of mess we might be dealing with. Set up the computer with some tree frog images thanks to google images and the book that we borrowed from the library. 

We looked a few pictures of tree frogs and started sculpting. Aiden decided that he wanted to start with a Strawberry poison dart frog. 

Eliana opted for a Golden frog. 

Aiden then made a golden frog as well. 

Yes, we all decided that it made sense to make a golden frog. So we made a few. 

This Model Magic clay was so easy to work with and incredibly light weight. I think this is maybe what those circus peanut candies are made of. ;) My littles decided that they were done and ready to go do something else, but I didn't want to stop, I made several others before I finally decided to put the clay away. 

This one reminds me of a marshmallw peep. 

Have you ever used Model Magic before? Did you find it incredibly easy to work with as I did? Or do you use a different sculpting medium? 

I am still in search of a reader who has been to Panama to be our Traveling Friend, to be featured next week. Please contact me at mamacitasglobe[at]yahoo[dot]com. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

A New Kind of Stamp (Panama)

As the end of the month draws near (how can it be time already???) we start checking things off of our to do list. Flag, Check. Craft, Check. Snack, Check. Trip to the library, Check. And now, we can check off "Stamp our passports".

Ever since we made the passports, we have been primarily using potatoes to make the stamps. I have ventured off a bit and tried using an apple, but mostly it has been potato stamps. Potato stamps are cool and work great, but I've been feeling a little bored with the same old potato. I decided that this time I would try something new. Since Eliana recently did a printmaking class (and they both did last summer) I wanted to try to follow some of the printmaking concepts. 

I started by drawing out what I wanted the stamp to look like. Since we have been doing some talking about The Panama Canal lately, I wanted to include a map of Panama (since it "features" the canal).

Then, using a styrofoam take out container (that I saved from a recent outing), I cut a square of styrofoam.

This next step is a crucial step if you don't want your design to end up backwards. (Remember when I made this mistake with my very first potato stamp?) You must flip your paper over that has the drawn image on it so that it is reversed. 

You can barely see it I know, but if you look hard you can see the image through the paper. (You could try using tracing paper or layout paper.)
Then, you have to trace your image to the side. The reason for doing this is it gets your image where you want it on your styrofoam enough so that you can carve into your styrofoam. 

Since the styrofoam is so soft, I found that the best (and easiest) way to carve the image into the styrofoam, was to simply draw over the image again with a pencil, pushing down slightly harder than normal to create the carving. 

Next up is where the truth is revealed. Does the styrofoam stamp work? I used acrylic paint and a small brush.

After brushing the paint on the design, I flipped it over and stamped the trial on paper. 

I wasn't crazy about how the word "Panama" came out. I think the letters were just too small so, I decided that the next time around, I would not paint the word. I would stamp only the image of the map and the date, then use a marker to write the word Panama. 

It certainly isn't perfect, but I am glad to be sampling new methods of stamping instead of sticking with potatoes. Who knows what next month will bring???

Aiden "stamping" his passport. 
The last order of business is that we also needed to scratch Panama off of our map. As soon as soon as I mentioned to my littles that we were doing this Eliana asked, "Can I scratch it first?" Since she asked first, I said "yes." When I pulled the map out and started to outline the country for them to scratch, it realized that getting each of them a turn scratching would be tough. Fortunately, we made it work. They each got to scratch for about 3.5 seconds. ;) 

Have you made a homemade stamp before? What did you use? Did you try a potato? How about the styrofoam printmaking method? 

We're still looking for someone to be featured as our Traveling Friend. If you or anyone you know has been to Panama, please get in touch with me, I'd love to share your trip with my littles as well as our readers. Contact me at mamacitasglobe[at]yahoo[dot]com

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Panamanian Library Venture

Every month when we make our trip to the library we are eager to see what kinds of stories we can unearth that are relevant to our current destination. Some months I know that there will be a large selection of books and stories available, other months, I hope to be surprised, but anticipate far less. 

This month, was one of the latter and sadly, the "pickins were slim" as they say. Of course we grabbed the Panama book from the Cultures of The World series by Susan Hassig and Lynette Quek, as we do every month. 

We also found a book called The Panama Canal by Elizabeth Mann, this book is about.... can you guess?.... the history of the Panama Canal. 

As I have mentioned before I always like to find other books too. Books that aren't just cold hard facts, but ones that tell a story. They can be fact or fiction, but they need to be connected to our country of the month in some form. Often we find folk tales and we love these. They are stories that help us feel connected to our destination because we know that these stories originated in the heart of the country and it's ancestors. 

Since we were unable to find anything like this for Panama, I broadened the search to Central America. In our little local library the only book that was brought up that was an age appropriate book related to Central America was a book called Red-Eyed Tree Frog by Joy Cowley. It follows a tree frog through a night, starting when many other animals of the rainforest go to sleep, the tree frog wakes up. It is looking for food and encounters other creatures if the rainforest, some that it avoids because they don't taste good and bite (ants), others because they are poisonous (caterpillars), and still others because they are predators (Boa snakes). Finally, the little tree frog finds a moth, eats it up and settles in to sleep for by pressing it's green body flat against a green leaf for the day and closes it's eyes. This book has lovely pictures and in the back it has two pages of facts along with actual size photos (2 inches). 

Though I am disappointed to have not found a book of the folk lore and legend of Panama, this book was an informative look at one of the many inhabitants of the rainforest. It is a good book for 3-5 year olds. Aiden is 7 and while the topic was interesting enough for him, it was a little too simple for him. 

Have you discovered any great books about Panama? Or how about hit up your local library in hopes of finding a treasure and being disappointed with the selection? 

Also, I'm looking for someone to be featured for our Panama Traveling Friend. If you or anybody you know has been to Panama and would like to be our featured friend, please contact me mamacitasglobe[at]yahoo[dot]com.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Strawberry Horchata Raspados (Panama)

One of the activities that we added this year after having a family meeting to discuss how we might improve our adventures, was to try more of the food from our country of focus. So, after recreating the Panama Flag and crafting some Panamanian Wildlife Art, it is time to explore with our taste buds. 

One of the things that we learned was that Panama has a cuisine that combines the delicious flavors of Mexican food, Caribbean food and squeezes in a bit of American flavor as well. 

In the search for a snack or treat that doesn't require a lot of labor in the kitchen (we're in the midst of a nice little heat wave here), I kept stumbling across recipes for strawberry horchata raspados. Since I have changed my diet to a plant based diet recently, I kept finding myself wanting to try these out, but finding that due to the dairy ingredients, I wouldn't be able to drink it, even if I made them for the rest of my family. 

That is when it occurred to me that I can try to modify it. I have several friends who always applaud my willingness to be "risky" with my cooking. I am always willing to try and tackle a recipe, even if it's something I have never done. Pushing the comfort zone a little, if you will. So why not go for it now?

I am going to include the recipe that I used. However, you should know two things (here comes the disclaimer). 

#1: I started by looking at this recipe and that is the basis of where my modifications and some non-modifications came from. If you are not on a plant based diet, you may want to check that one out if you want to attempt to make these. 

#2: I have never had raspados before, so I have no idea what they actually taste like. This is my first and only sampling of this, so my reviews are not going to be objective, or comparative. I am going to tell you if my taste buds were delighted or not.

With that out of the way, here is how it came together. 

Step One:  In a large container, put 3/4 cup of rice (I used brown rice), 1 cup of almonds, and a cinnamon stick. 

Step Two: Add three cups of hot water to the rice mixture and let stand until room temperature. Once cooled to room temperature, refrigerate over night.

Step Three: (The next morning) This is the part where you would have used condensed milk and evaporated milk, since I didn't want to use either of those, I used 2 cups of almond milk, 2 tbsp of vegan buttery spread, 1/4 cup of sugar and 1 1/2 tsp of cornstarch. Heat these over medium heat until the butter spread has melted and the sugar and cornstarch are dissolved. 

Step Four: In a blender, process the almond, rice and cinnamon mixture, along with a pinch of salt and the almond milk mixture. 

I really wish there was someway for me to attach the smell to this. Imagine sweet almond and cinnamon and you will almost be able to smell how wonderful it is to put your face over the blender for this step.
Step Five: Pour the mixture through a fine sieve or cheesecloth.

You will be left with quite a bit of the almond, rice "meal". If you are creative, I would suggest creating some other dish to use this up, otherwise, just discard it. 

The left over almond rice meal.
Step Six: Put strawberries in the bottom of a glass and mash them. Then pour the almond rice liquid over the strawberries and top with shaved ice. (Or if you are using a blender and it shaves ice like mine does, you will have battered and free from ice chunks with some shaved ice.)

Next comes the taste test....

I'm sure the suspense is killing you. Here is the verdict....

I will admit, I was a little worried. I am new to the "vegan" world and getting creative with the recipes is not something that I've had a lot of experience with. Add to that, the fact that I have never tried raspados before, I feel like my reviews might be lost on some of you, but I will tell you that I found it to be delicious. There was a sweet creaminess balanced by the sweet tart flavor of the strawberries and a little kick of cinnamon. I'm not sure if this is intended to be breakfast (in fact, I'm fairly certain that it is not), but that's what it was. My tummy feels full and I feel energized (despite having been up late with one of my littles who wasn't feeling well). With the exception of the 1/4 cup of sugar, I can't come up with a valid reason why it is not an acceptable breakfast food. So therefore, our Panama snack arrived in the form of breakfast. 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Oh! How Colorful Wildlife Can Be!

Since we recreated the Panama Flag a few days ago, the next item on our to-do list was to make a craft. One of our family favorite activities each month is learning about the wildlife of our current destination. This was no exception. We looked at images of the various birds, mammals, amphibians and insects of Panama. When I told my littles that they had to pick and animal to create a piece of art, they had a hard time choosing. Aiden went from a Spider, to a bat and finally decided on a frog. Eliana went from a Coati to a monkey, and settled on a butterfly. I opted to focus on the Ocelot, because I like "big cats", also because on a trip to upstate New York a couple of years ago, we saw one at a zoo. I was completely enthralled by it, even though it was eating some kind of really gross raw meat. This was our  first and only real life encounter with an ocelot. 

Once we decided that we wanted to make wildlife art, I introduced my littles to an art form native to Panama. The native Kuna women create Mola Art in the clothing that they make. I thought this art form looked really great and since (as I first mentioned here) I can't sew, I pulled out some art supplies from my art college days. (I want you to know that this is a HUGE event, because I never let my littles use my supplies, they are expensive and it's hard to watch my littles use them in the way that kids use art supplies.) Using construction paper, and dry pastels ($30!!!) we tried to recreate the Mola Art by drawing animals with bright colors and then creating geometric forms around the animals. I have to say, I was so impressed with how my littles respected the supplies, I am very likely to let them use them again. And so you all don't think I am a total cheap-o and that I am whining about the cost of my art supplies, my littles have more than enough art supplies, so I usually feel like they should use their own. 

My completed Mola Inspired Ocelot.
This is the part where I tell you that my littles didn't quite get the concept of Mola Art. They kind of were doing their own thing. They started out trying to recreate the style, but they kept feeling like it wasn't working right. Eventually, they asked me if they could just make their art, by their own style. 

Eliana's butterfly. 
Aiden's frog. 
I love the colors that my littles chose and while they didn't quite get the warning about how easily pastels smudge, they did a great job working with this new medium. I think we are very likely to create some more pastel on construction paper art in the future. 

Have you created any fun crafts this week? Did you let your littles use your "grown up" supplies, or did you stick with the kid supplies? 

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