View from my Puerto Rican Oasis
Hi neighbors! Will you please excuse the resident of number 70 who has been out of town for a while? I want to share with you some of my everyday summer views of Puerto Rico. Many people think of Puerto Rico in a traditional somewhat nostalgic way, similar to this Sugar Cane painting that hangs on the walls of a local Old San Juan restaurant, Manolin Cafe but the reality is quite different.
Last week, I went to Old San Juan with Mr. Oasis where he is teaching for the summer and so much is happening at the Esquella Artes Plastica (Art School). The students have joined in with the University of Puerto Rico students to protest the government wide-budget cuts, and they are camped out on the lawn of El Morro. (Click here if you want to read an Oasis post about El Viejo San Juan.) What a lovely place to camp-even if it is illegal! I met my bff, Ms. D, for lunch at Manolin Cafe- a traditional Puerto Rican restaurant that locals frequent. I enjoyed the mofongo and Yaucono cafe served with hot milk. If you haven't tried Puerto Rican coffee, it's time to be adventurous. In my opinion, it is the best coffee in the world. Confession: When I visit state-side relatives, I find the unopened Christmas present coffee still in storage. Why is that? (My Michigan cousin, Tammy, says it's strong and they prefer coffee-tea! Her coffee drinking quirk is to mix instant chocolate into a cup of weak morning coffee, which apparently gives her more wake-up power.)
My friend, Ms. D, knows where to go and how to spend money wisely. She suggested lunch at the Manolin Cafe because it has the best local food at the most economical prices. However, the value is not a secret! We had to wait at the door for a few minutes to be seated. And of course we ran into a friend because Puerto Rico is small, and you run into friends everywhere. Deeply immersed in conversation with our former co-worker and now world traveling friend, Mr. G, we completely forgot to compete for our place in line. After noticing we were still not seated, I took the initiative to be the rude one and excused us from an extended talk about the political situation and policy at the University of Puerto Rico. Finally, we were seated and it was well worth the wait. The photo is a half serving of mofongo, served with white rice and a mixed salad. I recommend that you do not order the rice with mofongo. It's too heavy. What was my waiter thinking? I find that being a vegetarian in Puerto Rico is a challenge. Often perfectly nice servers will give me starch with starch served with a side of starch. My growing middle may be blamed on such eating experiences as these!
Aside: Friends you have to try making mofongo. It's not too difficult as long as you have access to green plantains. Yes, you have to peel them with a knife, but it's worth it to try. Yes, they have to be sliced in one inch pieces, fried in oil until both sides are golden, and then briefly cooked again-but here is where you change your tostones to mofongo.
Place the fried plantain in a container and smash them with lightly roasted garlic until they are broken down into a nicely textured rounded pile. Flip unto a plate and serve with a little salad and Spanish olive oil. Delicious! (Click here if you want to try a more traditional recipe that includes meat.)
What I do differently in this recipe: I allow the plantains to get crisp so that when they are mashed, they continue to have texture. Also, I drop the garlic cloves in oil until they are a bit crunchy as well. Both of these changes make even the meat-eating Mr. enjoy the days when I serve his traditional food vegetarian style.
~~~~~~~~~~~ These Spanish looking baked clay tiles are on the floor of the Art School. Above them, an old picnic table on one side, and just behind the table, a scrap pile of boards and disgarded art projects. In spite of their neglect, I find the tile pattern beautifully arranged and pleasing to the eye. Doesn't it give you a feeling of another time? The art school is losing funding-drastically-and the students continue to work on their projects even though it feels as if the roof is caving in. It's a highly competive art school that produces students who can create in both the classical style art and more modern media, such as computer graphics. What a shame that art is the first to go when money is scarce.
Blogland Neighbors, thank you for sharing a cup of cafe con leche and some traditional Puerto Rican food with me. If you want to borrow a cup of sugar, please stop by whenever you are near Blogland Lane # 70 -or if you prefer azucar mascabada o negra (cane or brown), come over to Oasis !