Cooking, Panama Style…


Okay, those who know us from California are well aware of Scott’s talent in the kitchen. Now that he’s officially retired and doesn’t have any houses to work on or woodworking to do (closets to build or cabinets to make!), he has much more time to experiment and learn to cook new things as well as how to cook some things a bit differently. Now, we may not have the big fancy kitchen anymore. No professional Viking stove or top quality cookware to make life easy for him. We have about two inches of counter space and an oven with no temperature settings, only 1,2 or3! Scary! Who knows what temperature it actually is,( we realize an oven thermometer would solve this mystery but we just haven’t gotten to that quite yet) . In our past life we had a few dishes that he would rotate through during our work-week ,which were easy to do and didn’t require a whole lot of work. Some of our standards were, Chicken or beef fajitas, lasagna, shrimp pasta, beef stroganoff, veggie pita pizzas, fish tacos, burgers with baked fries, and the occasional steak and baked potato (just to name a few). Most nights we tried to eat at home and Scott would occasionally branch out and experiment with something new but mostly we were just too brain dead and tired to spend a whole lot of time trying out new dishes .

Well folks times have changed! And in spite of the lack of any kind of gourmet anything here in our little rented apartment, Scott’s slowly figuring out how to cook a few things that he never had the time to do before. We had to cave in and buy a set of pots and pans at Price Mart ( the Costco here) . The whole set probably cost as much as one of his pans that are packed up in our storage space, but they are Kitchen Aide brand and they’re working just fine for him! After trying to make do with the flimsy “aluminum” ones here in the apartment he’s not complaining one bit. It’s still a bit of a challange to find many of the ingredients that we are familiar with but it’s been quite fun to try new and different things that we never found at Safeway in Los Altos. Our friend Lyn was kind enough to turn us on to fresh Coconut oil. She get’s it from someone in Bocas near her jungle lodge and it’s delicious. I’m not a pro on all the facts but supposedly it’s healthier than many of the other oils we are accustomed to using. All I know is that it tastes great with pretty much anything we’ve used it for and it’s great to support a person here in Panama that produces it. We’ve also been able to find the same Olive Oil that he uses for most of his cooking.

This last couple of weeks we’ve been slowly learning how to cook,( from scratch), Beans!! Don’t laugh! I know, this may be something very basic for most people, but, believe it or not, these two gringos have only ever bought the canned version from Safeway. We discovered early on that here in Panama, they don’t’ seem to have FAT-FREE beans in the can here. So who knows how much fat and other crap is in there? This is what prompted such a wild decision` to attempt to prepare fresh beans from scratch. I mean you should see all the fresh beans here in the markets! In classic “Scott Style”, he got online and began to quietly research “cooking beans” from scratch. And in classic “Holly Style”, I had a great time trying to practice my spanish with my teacher while she gave me step by step directions for cooking frijoles from scratch, something I’m sure is as easy and basic to her as scrambling an egg. I can’t imagine what must have been going through her mind as she went through something so basic and simple ? I don’t know, but she was very kind and patient as I very intently wrote down , (in spanish mind you), all her directions. We followed those directions but of course Scott added his own twists to it and now we’ve gone through two batches of homemade frijoles and it’s official people, he’s got it down!! I’m sure he’ll continue to experiment with many different twists here and there, but for the most part our days of buying canned beans are over. We would never have had the time it takes to make this had we been working. All we had time for was opening up a can and tossing it in the microwave! It’s a pretty long process and one that we now have plenty of time to do, yippee!

The one other kinda big deal, (to us) has been to take the time to make fresh, home made Chicken Stock! Yep, we’ve always bought the little yellow box of chicken stock , but even though we’ve found that same little yellow box here, (not up here in Boquete but down in David), Home made is much more healthy, and of course much more flavorful with Scott’s magical twists he adds to it. Again, this took some time, and some fresh chicken necks but I gotta tell you, its way better than that boxed stuff we’re used to. Now we have a bunch of little tupperware containers of frozen, homemade broth at the ready for anything Scott may decide he needs it for. We would never have had the time or desire to figure out how to do this in our busy life in Ca.

I’m sure you’ll be glad to know that for the most part Scott’s been able to prepare most of our “standards” . There’s just a few things we haven’t easily been able to locate here. Mostly fresh herbs like basil , cilantro and parsley. Herbs in general just don’t seem too common in the grocery stores, only at the Tuesday market. We’ve been able to find just about anything we need there. The Tuesday market (for those of you who aren’t aware) is like a weekly farmers market that was , I think, started by expats, and is where many organic farmers and artists, and such , sell there wares. There’s not much that you wont find at this market , for instance, we finally found fresh Cayenne pepper. Cayenne pepper is one thing we’ve been on the lookout for and have failed miserably to find so we were happy to find it at the market just last week. We’re looking forward to moving to our rental house on Sept 1 where we hope to be able to plant our own little herb garden.

As I was writing this post Scott was preparing breakfast and he chimed in that he really misses a decent cutting board and his sharp chef knives. I’m sure he could go on and on about all his kitchen gadgets and tools which are currently sitting in storage in the States waiting to be shipped over here. Given the fact that we already own all those things, we really don’t want to buy them for this brief period of time until they arrive. That being said, there have been just a few things we just had to go buy. Like the pots and pans, a cookie sheet, a set of glass lasagna type pans, a glass measuring cup and measuring spoons, a whisk, a couple of tupperware storage containers, a set of stainless mixing bowls and as I mentioned earlier on, a blender. We’ve also been considering picking up a good juicer because the fresh fruit here is just screaming to be made into yummy juices and this is one gadget we don’t have in our storage. Again, juicing takes time and time was one thing we never really had excess of in our past life. So this post is just a little taste of our current cooking experiences which I have a feeling we will update you on frequently given how much we enjoy this part of our lives. The Adventure continues…


About hollycarter184

Life is Good! But it's time for a change, and more adventure! I'd like to share the whole experience of preparing then actually making a reality of expatriating, and moving to a new country. It's an exciting, and slightly scary move full of possibility . I'm looking forward to learning a new language and making new connections with the people who share our spirit of adventure. This blog is my way of continuing my connection with my friends and family in the States. Sooooo here it goes! :)

5 responses »

  1. I still can’t find noodles for stroganoff and I found out the hard way that BowTies just don’t cut it. You will never find REAL grits, Grape Nuts or catnip. But smoothies with fresh fruit is healthier anyway. But it is funny having to start from scratch for something like beans and chicken broth when it used to be so easy to open a can.

  2. What a yummy problem to have! What fun it must be for the talented Scott to experiment, and for you to taste all those new foods!

  3. Rice with Stroganoff is very nice, make a circle of rice and place meat in center. I always thought cooking beans was straightforward. You soak then boil till soft after which you do your magic I wrong?

  4. I can relate to missing good cutlery. Packing knives is just something we cannot manage. However, we have purchased a good non-stick frying pan everywhere we have moved. I can imagine you are eager to land in your own place. Hang in there! (I feel your pain, Scott.)

  5. We have a juicer, pineapple and carrot juice, yum! If you have a really good blender you can also just blend the fruit and veg and use a strainer to get the “yucky” stuff out. We were just talking about how we don’t eat any “quick” food any more. 🙂

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