Category Archives: Panama City

Posts that take place in Panama City

Making chocolate, sort of, not really

When I realized that Valentine’s day was fast approaching, I decided to make Jeff chocolate from scratch. He loves chocolate and it seemed like the perfect gift.

hahahahahahah

Just kidding. I am not a big Valentine’s day person. I am, however, a big fan of squash. So when I saw this in the gourd section of the grocery store, I got excited.

Doesn’t this make you think of chocolate?

I knew immediately, mostly, because of the sign, that these were cacao pods, which are used to make chocolate. I had been on Theo’s chocolate tour in Seattle where they passed around photos of these pods. I think I may have spaced out though on the tour when they explained everything that came between pod and chocolate bar.

The pod was less than a dollar, but when the grocery store bagger stared at it and held it up to look closer, I realized making chocolate from scratch was not a common thing, even in Panama.

When I looked up how to make chocolate on the internet, I realized I may have wasted my seventy-eight cents.

It sat on our counter for a week until I built up the nerve to “make chocolate.” It also took that long to convince Jeff to help me. In our over 25 year marriage, Jeff has had to rescue me when I decided to “make” soap, cheese, soy lattes, hummus, roasted pumpkin seeds, and guacamole.

Maybe I can just make a squash smoothie instead.

But then I got up the nerve and the strength to cut the pod open.

Cutting it open was super hard. Jeff stood by to dial 911 in case I cut my finger off.

Just going to close my eyes and take a little nap while I cut this.

Wouldn’t you think when you cut open a cacao pod, M&M’s would fall out? At least you would think it would smell a tiny bit like chocolate.

Nope, didn’t smell like much actually.

Ick, why are there mini aliens pods in this thing?

The inside was similar to acorn squash, lots of weird seeds, slimy, and gross looking. The seed things had a membrane that tasted sort of fruity. Sort of like a sour green grape.

This tastes nothing at all like chocolate. But this Instagram filter makes me look younger.

I planned to cook the squash but no, people don’t eat them. They don’t have much taste.

There’s a reason there is no such thing as cacao pod soup or ravioli.

According to the internet, you have to ferment the pods to get them to taste like chocolate. They need to sit out in hot weather which there is a lot of here in Panama City.

Good thing we ate an entire jar of peanut butter in a week so I had a glass jar to use.

The internet said it would take two to seven days. I put a lid on the jar and put it on the balcony.

In the meantime, I was on a kick to try new local fruits. They have a fruit bowl in our gym with mostly apples. One day they had these little yellow things that looked like pears. I asked the guy what they were in Spanish.

I said, “Como este?”

I was pretty sure that meant, Look how interested I am in your culture. Please tell me what this strange exotic fruit is? I actually said, “like this?” which doesn’t’ mean a whole lot in this context.

I thought he answered, “bara” which I took to be some very exotic Panamanian fruit. I presented it to Jeff to try.

Sheryl: Here is a ‘bara’ I hope you like it.
Jeff: This is a pear.

Turns out the gym guy said “pera” which mean, pear in Spanish. I might not recognize a pear when I see one, but I do know a jar of rotting, I mean fermenting cacao seeds.

Day 1 – They still look gross.
Day 2-4 They smell gross.
Day 5-6 What is that goo?
Day 7 They still look and smell terrible, guess I’ll make them into chocolate.

The next step in the process according to the internet was baking the seeds.

This is Theo’s Chocolate’s fault. Sure which I had never gone on that tour.

Baking the seeds went well. Peeling them was as tedious as you would imagine.

My nails and hands look at cracked and dry as the seeds.
Who wouldn’t want this for Valentine’s Day?

After the cooking and peeling of the seeds, I feared they would never become chocolate. But then, I thought about the Cubs winning the World Series in 2016 and knew anything was possible.

Actually, my hair was a mess and I didn’t want to straighten it.

The blending took forever. I think it took at least an hour. Jeff says only five minutes.

Finally, cocoa powder.

While it looked pretty, it didn’t taste like chocolate. Jeff mixed it with peanut butter.

This looks like a fork of peanut butter photoshopped into a picture of Jeff. but it’s not. He really did try this.

It tasted like mashed up crayons with a very faint taste of chocolate.

So then I decided to “make fudge.” I added a ton of sugar, butter, and milk.

Action shot of the spoon mixing the boiling “chocolate.”

Jeff was once again ready to call 911 in case the boiling “chocolate” shot up and burned me.

But then after we refrigerated it overnight, we finally had “chocolate.”

Next time I’m just buying a chocolate bar.

It pretty much just tasted like sugary goo which is still very delicious. The next time you see a fancy chocolate bar at the store and wonder why it’s so expensive, this is why. The cacao pods might be cheap, but the process is not easy.

Binoculars, sloths and the Butterfly Jail

When Jeff and I visited Panama in 2014 we visited the Metropolitan Park to bird watch. We didn’t see many birds but we did see an anteater. Ever since I’ve been hoping to see another one.

First, we needed binoculars since we left our perfectly good pair back at home in Seattle. So, we headed to the mall. After checking around in several different stores, we were directed to Panafoto which sells everything electronic.

No pans and no photos though.

The store is set up similar to how Service Merchandise was back in the 70’s. First, we waited for someone to help us at the binocular counter.

How badly do you want to see an anteater?
I think I see coffee grinders in aisle 4.

Then we went to several counters, one to order the product, one to get a receipt, one to pay, and one to get the product, and finally, one to look at the product and sign off it was the correct item.

Let’s start all over and get a coffee grinder too.
Please don’t make me go back to that other counter.

After we finished with the binoculars, we decided to start the process over again for a coffee grinder.

On Sunday we headed out to the Parque Nautural Metropolitano. It was a quick fifteen minute Uber ride which only cost $4.00. The park was great with nice bathrooms, water fountains, and English speaking rangers.

Which trail has the most anteaters?
Not seeing any anteaters yet

The trails were easy and the forest was beautiful. We heard a lot of birds but only saw a few.

This bird is so still, it’s amazing.

I spent ten minutes staring at what I thought was a bird but turned out to be a really nice leaf.

It was really hot, I had to struggle just to stay upright and continue walking. But everyone else was jogging, actually running!

You’re going to miss all the anteaters if you run that fast.

We hiked up one hill, at the top I thought I would very likely pass out, other women were doing squats, on a hill, in hot weather!

We didn’t see any anteaters and very few birds. But, we did come upon a sloth!!

We didn’t exactly come across it, it was high up in a tree. But still, the binoculars came in handy.

At the end of our walk, I insisted on going to the butterfly garden, or butterfly jail as Jeff called it. Jeff didn’t want to spend the $5 on admission, so he stayed on the other side of the netting.

OK, it is a little bit like a moth prison.

Is this photo worth a butterfly’s freedom?
I bet they don’t get grapefruit in the wild.

The garden had eleven different types of butterflies. I think I saw six different kinds, all interesting, and all seeming very happy.

We got some exercise, got into nature, and saw some cool stuff. Next time I’m bringing some ants though to attract an anteater.