Shopping for food here on the coast is very much like our grandmothers shopped. There are no stores like obligatory Wal-Mart, Publix or Krogers where one stop gets you everything from soup to nuts with light bulbs and batteries thrown in for good measure. Here, I went to Grumpy’s (that’s not his name and he’s really very pleasant and the cheapest guy in Olon) for tomatoes and onions, then a great little bakery with artisan style fresh baked loaves. Next was a stop a Granger Meats which is really just a freezer on the back of Kasey’s truck, for some ground beef. The drill is that the guys drink beer while Shirley and I walk to Grumpy’s and the bread lady. Kasey parks at Eddie’s Tacos, a gringo hangout with mediocre food but cold beer. Today we made a stop at the Oloncito for a few other items like snacks, yogurt (it comes in a quart milk carton) and a pineapple. I was very impressed because the store has shopping carts and room to down the aisles with them. Most Tiendes are just roll up garage fronts with random items in no particular order.
The cooking highlight of the week has been my now famous Ecuadorian chicken. Friday morning, I timed my run to Montanita to be early enough to get the freshest stuff but late enough that I was sure they were open, so 10am. Last week I had spotted a meat market near the square so I went there first to get chicken. I must digress to explain that the chicken was for supper, but more importantly it was for Fitz. For the last few weeks, he has not been happy with his Fromm’s dry kibble, so down here, I decided to spoil him with fresh made dog food. When I went last week to the big market (read poor man’s Walmart) in Salinas, I bought a whole roasted chicken. Jeff and I ate the leg quarters and the rest got mixed with enough rice and broccoli to last him 9 days. I even “ice? it with some plain yogurt for supper. Since I have few options right now for storing food, I turned the chicken pan upside down, lined it with plastic wrap and filled it to the rim with Fitz food. The tough part was keeping Jeff from eating it.
So, Friday, Fitz ate the last of his special food for breakfast and I went on a quest to make more for him. I located the butcher shop just as a truck was unloading huge plastic bins heaped with 25 or 30 whole chickens, plucked but skin and heads still on. These were not anemic American chickens; no GMO fed, antibiotic loaded puny birds! These were gigantic plump chickens. And thus began the quandary. Not having my stuff yet, I am limited to aluminum foil, a large Calphalon skillet and one pot from Shirley with no lid; therefore, I decided to opt for four chicken quarters. Sure, they were probably yesterday’s chickens but still fresher than I am used to getting.
On the way home, I stopped at the bakery for Jeff’s new favorite donuts (chocolate icing with sprinkles and some caramel like filling) and bought some treats for the workers who are finishing up the pool. Chickens and pastry in hand, I grabbed a taxi and went home to start cooking.
These were really nice dark quarters so I dosed them with all the seasonings that I had put in my luggage; cumin, coriander, garlic salt, thyme, rosemary and lots of black pepper. That’s when I ran out of aluminum foil. I had intended to tightly wrap them and put them in the big skillet in the oven. Shirley has a 110w electric oven that she says won’t get hot enough to make toast but I have a propane stove. Of course, I can’t light it but Jeff has that down, so I said to preheat to 180C. After 30 minutes later, I remembered the oven! The door was so hot you couldn’t touch it, but with the mitts, I shoved the skillet inside. The handle stuck out 3 inches. Darn. So I ran next door and asked to borrow a pan. Jim was home alone and all we could find was the pan that came with his oven. Perfect. Wrong. I transferred the chicken to the pan and yes, it was 2 inches wider than my oven. I think it’s an easy bake oven for very small people with small pans.
Jeff and I managed to gingerly transfer the chickens precariously perched on the foil to the middle rack. I worried that the grease would over flow but I really didn’t have a choice. I set the timer of 30 minutes and went back to playing gin rummy and drinking beer.
Ding! I smelled yummy chicken but when I opened the door, the flame was out and the oven was luke warm. Jeff relit the stupid thing and I reset the timer for another 20 minutes. By now, Jeff is ravenous and Fitz is pacing, so I cooked a big pot of rice and reheated the vegetables I had boiled earlier that morning when it was cool in the kitchen. As an aside, Jeff was not fooled at all that I had cooked the veggies for him.
After relighting the oven one more time, we gave up on that plan and went to Plans B and C. I only have 2 glass plates so I wrapped one quarter in plastic and nuked it for 3.5 minutes while I wrapped the second on the other plate and put oil in the big skillet on the cooktop (sort of like a propane camping one with 4 burners all in 24x 20”). As I let the first chicken quarter rest, I nuked the second and began to fry the other two.
I’m not sure whether it was because we so hungry or because it took so much effort but all three of us enjoyed our baked, microwaved and fried Ecuadorian chicken. I managed to use every pot, pan, dish and tool that we had! Fitz get his normal portion plus lots of scraps from clean up. All in all, just another adventure!