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Travel and Photography by Burt and Evelyn Johnson

Another Senior Moment

Evelyn blows out the candle on her special dessert cake

Burt turned 65 in February.  Evelyn caught up today, so she now qualifies for the Ecuadorian term of Tercera Edad or Anciano, meaning she is now in her Third Life (aka Senior Citizen).  In Ecuador, that is a major milestone, which qualifies for half price on planes, trains, buses, theaters, parks, etc.  Banks have special lines for senior citizens, and in theory you get to cut in line at the grocery store (though I have only seen one woman ever do that).

As in February, we returned to Tiesto's for a special dinner with friends. When you tell Juan Carlos (the owner) that you have a birthday dinner, his wife paints the plate with edible fruit jellies, and Juan personally delivers a special birthday cake to your table.  Since we had two birthdays at our table, we got two plates -- each with a different design painted on them.

We will close with some family photos of Evelyn through her life.  Only the first here was before we met. The second was in college shortly after we started dating in 1969, then continuing up to the last one, which was taken in Iceland this past November.

And the fun has only just begun.  Tercera Edad means we now have the time to do even more! :)

[Recipe] Buffalo Wings (hot!)

This is another of the appetizers that I now make for parties.  Very easy to make, though there is a fair amount of elapsed time for this recipe.  These are for those that like their wings hot and spicy!

[Recipe] Buffalo Wings (hot!)
Recipe type: Appetizer
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Hot and spicy buffalo wings -- perfect for any party!
  • 1 lb Chicken Wings
  • 2 cups Water
  • ½ cup Vinegar
  • 1 cup White Sugar
  • 7 tbsp Hot Pepper Sauce
  • 1-1/2 tsp Red Pepper Flakes
  • 2 cup Yellow Mustard
  • 4 tbsp Ketchup
  • 1 Orange (peeled and pithed)
  1. Cut chicken wings, and throw away tips
  2. Steam wings for 10-15 min in double boiler Pat wings dry and set aside.
  3. Bring water, vinegar, hot pepper sauce and crushed pepper to boil in heavy saucepan
  4. Whisk yellow pepper and ketchup into sauce
  5. Stir in orange. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer until sauce is thick -- about 2+ hours
  6. Preheat oven to 375 deg F (175 deg C)
  7. Arrange wings in pan and bake for 30-45 min, turning once halfway through
  8. Stir the wings in the sauce and serve warm


Alberto Soriano Art Show

Alberto Soriano has been Evelyn's painting instructor since we arrived in Ecuador.  He is a well known painter, originally from Peru, who has exhibited throughout the world.  Last month he and his wife were featured in an article in the local English language magazine, Zero Latitude (click here to read the article).

He opened a show this week called "Universo Mágico" in downtown Cuenca at the Galería de la Alcaldia (the Mayor's gallery), where we attended the opening reception.  The images above are from his Manglares series -- one of three series of paintings that he showed off that night, plus some watercolor paintings.

There was a sizable turnout for the reception, mostly composed of expats.  Alberto has developed quite a following among that group, and half a dozen paintings were sold in the first hour.

These paintings were also included, from his "Pre-Columbina" series

Alberto's "Urbano" series was also represented by these paintings

[Recipe] Breakfast Sausage

When we were living in California, we used to like Jimmy Dean spicy sausage as a frequent side for breakfast.  Now that we live in Ecuador, we can no longer get Jimmy Dean.  Some searching on the web, and a bit of tweaking on my own, and we now have breakfast sausage whenever we want them.  I think I like this version even better than Jimmy Dean. Easy to make, and quite cheap too.  Nice combo! :)

[Recipe] Breakfast Sausage
Recipe type: Breakfast
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Easy replacement for Jimmy Dean spicy sausage.
  • 1 lb Ground Pork
  • ¾ tsp Sage
  • ¼ tsp Thyme
  • ½ tsp Pepper
  • ¾ tsp Salt
  • ¾ tsp Parsley
  • ¼ tsp Red Pepper Flakes
  • ¼ tsp Nutmeg
  1. Blend everything evenly into the pork.
  2. Best if left in fridge overnight before cooking.
  3. NOTE: I usually make enough mix of the seasonings for 10 batches and store it in a jar. I can then spoon out 3-1/2 tablespoons of the mix into one pound of ground pork.


[Recipe] Spinach Cream Soup

Last week I took three cooking classes from Maite Eusebio, here in Cuenca.  She is Peruvian-born, and her recipes are highly influenced by that origin.  She has been living in Ecuador with her artist husband, Alberto Soriano since the 1970's.  Alberto has been Evelyn's art instructor since we arrived here.  There was an interesting article about the couple recently in Zero Latitude Magazine.

Maite had made spinach cream soup for us when we visited them in the past.  I remember seeing the green goo and thinking "this looks like one of those health food drinks that tastes like crap."  One spoonful changed my mind though -- it was delicious!  Last week, she taught us how to make it ourselves.

[Recipe] Spinach Cream Soup
Recipe type: Soup
Cuisine: Peruvian
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4 servings
A delicious, creamy spinach soup that is trivial to make.
  • 8 oz (250 g) Spinach leaves
  • 3 spoons Corn Starch (can substitute boiled potatoes if desired)
  • 3 cups Semi Skim Milk
  • Salt to taste
  • Pepper to taste
  1. Cook spinach leaves until tender. Drain water and discard.
  2. Blend spinach with milk, corn starch, salt and pepper in blender until smooth.
  3. Return to pot and boil for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring constantly.
  4. Serve immediately.
  5. NOTE: If you do not have corn starch, you can substitute some boiled potatoes to thicken the soup.


[Recipe] Bacon Wrapped Shrimp

This is our new favorite appetizer for when friends come over.  It is SO delicious that everyone who has had it raves about it.  Since it combines three of my favorite treats -- bacon, shrimp and jalapenos -- it had to be a hit! :)

There are two parts to this recipe.  First, we'll make the butter sauce that is used for basting while cooking the final combination:

[Recipe] Basting Butter Sauce
Recipe type: Appetizer
Cook time: 
Total time: 
This is the butter sauce that will be added to the bacon-shrimp skewers during final cooking.
  • ½ cup melted Butter
  • ½ oz Tequilla
  • 1 tsp Lime Juice
  • ½ tsp Black Pepper
  • ½ tsp Paprika
  • ½ tsp Oregano
  • ¼ tsp Cayenne Pepper
  • ¼ tsp Cilantro (dried)
  1. Melt the butter in a small sauce pan
  2. Add the spices and stir

Now we come to the main piece:
[Recipe] Bacon Wrapped Shrimp
Recipe type: Appetizer
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 16 pieces
Delicious appetizer for when you have guests over for dinner.
  • 1 lb Shrimp (cleaned and deveined)
  • 2 Red Jalapenos (veins and seeds removed, sliced into thin slivers)
  • 16 Slices Bacon (I prefer Peppered Bacon, but any will work)
  1. Pre-cook bacon until it is almost done, but still flexible
  2. Butterfly the shrimp. Place 1 or 2 strips of jalapeno in each. Wrap with piece of bacon, and secure with toothpick. Place in a single layer in a large pan.
  3. Brush butter sauce over all shrimp in pan.
  4. Cook over medium heat for 6 to 8 min, turning once and basting again with butter sauce.
  5. Serve immediately.


[Recipe] Apple Pie

Yesterday we saw how I make a dough-based pie crust for fruit pies.  Today we will make the pie itself.  After a few spectacular failures, I finally have this down to a process that comes out delicious every time.

[Recipe] Apple Pie
Recipe type: Desert
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 8 slices
An easy apple pie that will win raves from everyone you serve it to!
  • 1 Pie Crust (see yesterday's "dough-based pie crust" recipe)
  • ½ cup unsalted Butter
  • 3 tbsp Flour
  • ¼ cup Water
  • ½ cup Sugar
  • ½ cup Brown Sugar
  • 8 Granny Smith Apples
  1. Core and slice the Granny Smith apples
  2. Preheat oven to 425 deg.
  3. Melt the butter in a saucepan. Stir in flour to form a paste.
  4. Add water, white sugar and brown sugar, and bring to a boil. Reduce temp and let simmer.
  5. Place bottom crust in pan. Fill with apples, mounded slightly. Cover with a lattice work crust. Gently pour sugar and butter liquid over the crust (pour slowly so that it does not run off)
  6. Bake 15 min in the pre-heated oven. Reduce temp to 350 deg F. Continue baking for 35-45 min, until apples are soft.


[Recipe] Pie Crust (dough)

It has been awhile since I have posted any recipes.  There have been a lot of new recipes developed over the past few months, so let's try to catch up.  I have been particularly busy working with recipes for desert and appetizers, so we will start with what has become a favorite of dinner guests -- apple pie.

There are two parts of any pie -- the crust and the filling. I had some monumental failures when I first tried to make a dough crust for a fruit pie.  I now have it down so that it turns out excellent every time, so we will start this series of posts with a dough-based crust, suitable for an apple pie. (I posted a graham cracker crust last year)

By the way, I am trying a new recipe plugin, which should make it easier to print the recipe if you wish.  Let me know what you think of this approach to presenting recipes.

[Recipe] Pie Crust (dough)
Recipe type: Desert
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 1 pie
Dough based pie crust suitable for fruit pies.
  • 1 Egg
  • 3 cups Flour
  • ¾ tsp Salt
  • 1-1/2 cup Shortening (COLD - at least refrigerator cold)
  • 1 tbsp vinegar
  • 5 tbsp water (VERY COLD - use ice water)
  1. NOTE!! The shortening and water must be VERY COLD -- freezer cold is best, or this won't work!
  2. In a bowl, mix salt and flour
  3. With pastry blender, mix in cold shortening until the size of peas
  4. In a small cup, beat egg with a fork, add in vinegar and water, whisk until well blended.
  5. Add the water/egg mixture gradually to the flour mixture.
  6. Shape into a ball.
  7. Refrigerate 1 or more hours
  8. Roll out dough for pie.


Wooden Car Race

Today, April 12, is Foundation Day in Cuenca, Ecuador.  The city was founded 458 years ago, and there are celebrations of various types for the entire month.  Last night we saw one of the largest fireworks displays from our apartment window that we have seen since arriving here.

Today, there was a "Wooden Car Race" on Calle Larga, just half a block from our front door.  Even though I am still recovering from the flu, this was so close and unique that I just had to go see.

The race was scheduled for 3:00.  I got there about 3:15, knowing nothing ever starts "on time" in Ecuador.  There were maybe 20 spectators on the street, and 9 cars at the starting line, all waiting for the signal to go.  I waited around for something to happen, and thought it odd there were so few spectators.  At 3:28, there were suddenly 200 or 300 spectators!  Where the heck did they come from?? At 3:30, two police motorcycles took off, and the first two racers followed down the street.  Turns out they were the only two "real wooden cars" in the race (bottom left image).  They were gone and past me in less than 30 seconds, when we all turned to watch them head down the gently sloped cobblestone street.

About half an hour later, the two motorcycles came racing back at top speed, and skidded to a halt just in front of the other racers... and waited...  Another 15 minutes went by with everyone standing around, and then suddenly -- without warning -- the two motorcycles took off again and the remaining cars (all metal frame) followed them at top speed.

Somehow everyone else knew what the "real start time" would be.  I am still trying to decipher this mysterious "Ecuadorian time."   :)

Argentina Summary

Street murals found during our Argentina trip

We are now back home in Cuenca, Ecuador after traveling through Northern Argentina for the past month. The last six blog entries have covered our time in Buenos Aires, Mendoza, Salta, Iguazu Falls, and finally the Estancia Don Joaquin.  I will close out the entries on this trip with some overall impressions.

Perhaps the most surprising thing for me was how expensive Argentina is to travel to.  With an inflation rate of 40% per year, prices are being increased constantly.  We had heard there was also strong devaluation of the peso, which we thought would counteract the inflation, keeping it inexpensive for those with US dollars.  Nope. The Argentina government has put an official lid on the conversion rate, even for the "blue rate" you can get on the street.  Last October, friends were able to get 15 pesos per dollar, but in March we could only get 12.5 pesos maximum (the official rate in the banks is 8.7).  Thus, both the inflation and the conversion rate are working against us.  Don't plan a trip here anytime soon unless you are willing to pay a lot of money for most things.

Cuenca is well known for its street murals.  We found them in Argentina too, particularly in Buenos Aires.  However, they were more rare, and often rundown, on the sides of buildings that were cracking and had plaster falling away.  Though there is certainly beauty in this country, it has a certain shabby appearance if you step off the main shopping areas.

Argentina is a really large country!  When we first thought about this trip, we thought we would rent a car and explore the entire country in one month.  We soon realized the distances between our main destinations was huge, and decided to fly instead.  Even then, it was simply not reasonable to see the entire country in one month.  We limited ourselves to the North, and I think it was about the right amount of time.  We would still like to see Patagonia and the South, but that will have to be a future trip.

Mendoza was our favorite part of Argentina that we visited.  This was partly because of the excellent wineries and the pleasant countryside.  It was also a monument to hiring a truly excellent guide though, who took care of everything and made sure everything worked smoothly.  As I stated on the blog from that day, if you ever want to visit Mendoza, we highly recommend Roman as a guide.  This also really showed the difference between a true guide and a simple driver -- the Salta experience could have been more enjoyable had our driver done the job of guide that he had been hired for. :(

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