GringoPost | Ecuador: Tips of living in Cuenca and Ecuador et al

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Tips of living in Cuenca and Ecuador et al

There are many valuable tips and life hacks to be gleaned from this forum which make your lifestyle here more enjoyable. Below are 10 life hacks and tips from which you might benefit.

1. Buttermilk substitute...Toni unflavored natural yogurt (SuperMaxi) used in buttermilk pancakes, biscuits and just drunk. Pretty close substitute. No butter flakes however (and better for your health). It's not available in low fat mode.

BTW, I culture my own "cultured buttermilk" substitute leaving about a half inch of Toni unflavored natural yogurt in the container and adding ordinary milk, shake to mix. Let it sit in a warm place like in a sunny window, etc. or on top of the fridge toward the back where the warm air rises from the heat exchange coils, a couple or three days, lightly capped to let the CO2 out daily. Shake once or twice a day and lightly recap. Toni natural yogurt is live culture so it will make free yogurt, aka cultured buttermilk, discounting the 70 cent/lt cost of milk however. I add whatever flavoring sometimes but mostly enjoy it as is. Fake buttermilk. I've done this for years. After the first home culture however, don't reuse it. Other bacteria get in there and it may curdle on you. I use active Toni culture once and only once. After all, that's how yogurt is made in the first place.

2. Aged cheddar cheese. Go buy a brick of Gonzalez red wax coated cheddar at SuperMaxi. Keep it in the fridge for about a week or 10 days unopened. I've kept it on top of the fridge for 5 days for the same effect. It will bloat with CO2 gas as any cheese would, (no it's not spoiling, cheese is already spoiled milk curd) so prick it with a paring knife to make a tiny exit hole to let it burp. Then go ahead and refrigerate it ‘til used up. It'll be sharper, zestier and more aromatic. Same for Mozarella. The finer restaurants such as "Tiestos" do this "home aging" to enhance cheeses. The cheese companies here sell cheeses too soon and inadequately aged. Better money turn I gue$$. You can turn $6 of cheddar into $12 cheddar.

3. Gardella 100% pure Arabica (high altitude) coffee at SuperMaxi is better than any other brand SuperMaxi sells including the pricey snob appeal Colombian Juan Valdez ones. Gardella is better in aroma and flavor. It's produced from a blend procured by the Gardella coffee buyers. It's an old Italian family company out of Guayaquil and they know their coffees. It is a semi-mild roast and if you like a bit more body, a bit more umph mix in 15% Minerva Especial. About $6/lb. The milder the roast the more caffeine by the way. Caffeine is an organic compound and sadly is depleted the more you roast coffee. Darker roasted coffees therefore usually have less caffeine. In fact, I encourage all coffee fanatics (like myself) to mix up their own brews from available coffees including the Minerva coffees in Supermaxi and the Loja brown sugar caramelized roasted coffee on Gran Colombia. Sooner or later you'll find you are a pretty good coffee blender. Amaze your amigos.

4. Pizza. Fornace Pizza is a 2 for one deal 7 days a week in the Monay Shopping and downtown restaurants however in Mal Del Rio it's Mon thru Thurs only...otherwise Fri, Sat, Sun full price. (strange marketing but...). In my humble opinion the downtown location has the best pizzas in the chain comparing apples to apples, they put more stuff on 'em than the mall stores do. Fornace means "furnace" in Italian. I prefer their pizzas 2nd to none. They seem to have more flavor, zest and better crust. And they roast their own coffee too...stop in for a cappuccino.

5. Forget Tabasco. What? I never thought I'd ever say that. Since my first Tabasco in the Army in the 60s! But alas it's over priced here in import duty land and a bit sour and acidy if you ask me. The Guayaquil outfit called Ole produces a whole range of fruity and spicy hot sauces less hot than Tabasco and frankly more flavorful if you ask me. I'm after flavor more than heat...but a little heat is cool. (??) The Ole Chipotle smoked pepper sauce is a similar and less hot and more flavorful sauce than Tabasco Chipotle. Take a small bottle of Ole along on the next restaurant sortie to enhance the ever present bland white rice and bland soups.

But that's not the good part. Ole has a new sauce which I'm crazy about, called "Salsa Taquera Chipotle" and has a skull as the logo. Scary? Not when you taste it...and not hot. Even a native can palate this. Chipotle is a kind of pepper and is smoked. SuperMaxi has this Salsa taqueria Chipotle 240 gram bottle, and it is in a larger squarish bottle than the other Ole sauces. Write this one down on a piece of paper and stick it in your wallet for the next trip to SM. If you want to add heat, add the ordinary Ole Chipotle sauce to taste, shake the bottle and you’re done.

6. Cheap, good shaving cream. Since the army days in the sixties I've shaved using lather rendered from a simple shaving brush and ordinary bath soap. It's incredibly cheaper than the canned shave cream and the same thing...soap is soap, sodium citrate. Soap acts as a skin and shaving lubricant more than a beard softener. You need a hot moist towel 5 minutes to soften a beard anyway. I use Dove as shave soap exclusively for it lathers best, but any bath soap and hot water will do, even glycerine soaps.

Shaving brushes can be had in and around the barber shop suppliers near the Rotary Market. Get the fattest bushiest most expensive one you can. The bushier brushers produce the most lather fastest. Just run a bit of hot water over a bar of ordinary Dove soap while shwishing with your shaving brush, work up a semi lather, continue to work up a lather on your face with the brush. With thumb and forefinger squeegee the rich lather from the brush and apply that as well to your face. Shave away. I refuse to pay $6 for 50 cents worth of soap in an environmentally disgusting steel pressurized can. Of course, the bearded ones (of which I was a member for years before moving here to clean shaven land) can ignore this. Dove soap seems to leave less soap scum on the shower walls, lavatory and shower curtain too than other bath soaps. I don't buy the fancy oatmeal aloe vera soccer mom gimmick versions, just plain ole Dove white bar.

7. Kale. For greens lovers like me, Kale is an important "green". Aselga or Azelga is the Ec counterpart. I've seen it spelled other ways too. SuperMaxi has it in the lettuce and greens section. All their greens are good. They use it cut up in potato soup...a fav of mine (with a little Ole sauce of course). I grow it in my corn field.

8. Utilities savings. Turn off lights religiously when leaving rooms. Use LEDs exclusively, they have warm light ones now instead of that ugly cold white. Adjust your fridge to maintain and barely hard-freeze food in the freezer and to 40degF in the fridge part. Turn off computers when not in use (better for the compu too). Unplug or turn off adapters/routers/chargers...they burn more juice if left plugged in 24/7 than actually charging a device. Don't leave TVs on if you're not actually using/listening/watching them. Water saving tip...reuse rinse water in your washing machine, caught in buckets, for the next wash cycle. In USA they now make washers which do this automatically since water is in shortage in many areas now. Don't flush toilets after P, only after #2. Close the lid. No it's not gross. Remember, they sell synthetic urea as fertilizer for the food you eat, urine is not toxic.

9. Warm PJs. No room heaters and high electricity bills needed. Use a "Rocky Balboa" style sweat suit with hood for pajamas instead of using room heaters and thin flannel skimpy night ware. I love these cozy bed time PJs. I use socks at night too. Coral sometimes has Rocky suits or get a few sets next trip to Gringolandia at one of the "marts". I've used hooded sweats for PJs for about 50 years in USA's winter months, long before moving here. And you don't need a bathrobe or sweater when climbing outa bed in cool Cuenca mornings. I like the hooded tops, especially to pull over my eyes when wifey insists on turning of the overhead bedroom light to take the dogs out to P at block the danged bright ceiling light (the woman won't use the night light...argh!). I like the pockets when I get up for breakfast...cell phone, keys, stuff 'n things or a flashlight if I myself has to bop out at night with the dogs begging to P. Yes we live on a farm. I pad around in my hooded sweat suit and flip flops for at least an hour or two each morning while breakfasting and before shower and dressing for the day. And I don't look "exposed" or otherwise weird if a neighbor comes to the door before I'm dressed...I just look casual and with no anatomical compromises. (!) I look like Rocky Balboa! (in my dreams) What better?

10. Last Cuenca life hack. Keep some cardboard boxes or big ole plastic boxes in the rear of your car, trunk/boot or in the back of your SUV for shopping. Place stuff like groceries in them. It's much easier to carry a cardboard box or plastic box into your house than toting thin filmy easily broken plastic shopping bags, spilling the contents everywhere including glass jars that fall through holes and go ka-splat-sploosh jam, pickles or peanut butter on ceramic or concrete.

If you are a taxi borne shopper, (and only use taxis with taximeters for fair fares) buy some nylon or canvas big ole shopping bags with fat wide comfortable handles to take with you pre-shop to carry lots of shopping booty. SuperMaxi used to sell em, much better and a lot more comfy than those flimsy plastic bags that cut into your fingers and environmentally friendly. To make thin cloth handles more comfortable, slit a 6 or 7 inch section of garden hose or gas hose (hardware stores) lengthwise with a sharp knife (without doing a finger amputation) and slip that over the handle to make a more ergonomic handle from a thin cloth one.

End of this series of Cuenca life hacks and tips. If you wanna contribute to this thread, Fred, go right ahead...the more the merrier.


By the way, a few weeks ago my wife Susi posted an urgent plea for an Ecuadorian clean up company to contact her for cleaning the filthiest and most neglected apartment tenant aftermath we've ever seen in over ten years of renting. Score! She put together a winning Ec. team and I got busy with my construction maestro as well for a total of five people, and it's sparkling after 2 weeks of 7 day 10 hour day effort. Interestingly no actual Ec. clean up company responded to her urgent ad here. I guess they're after the easy stuff or not many Ecs in that biz read GP. Hint...we used lye solution (just like Easy Off) and steel wool to scour the heavily greased (like yellow varnish) kitchen walls (rubber gloves and eye protection) as well as the bathrooms which looked like they'd never been cleaned in years. Our fault for not doing periodic inspections. We found that "Fantastic" liquid detergent (another SuperMaxi item) was the best overall degreaser and cleaner and most concentrated that we've used in 21 years here, and floor cleaner including grout cleaner (lotsa hands and knees work with a scrub brush). We used it for hand washing 5 sets of custom drapes and they came out like new...that black city sooty gunk was all over them.

For the gunky greasy funky wood furniture, we used an aqueous mixture recommended to us, vinegar and baking soda. Makes no sense to me but it works, furniture finishes came out like new and sparkling. In Santa Isabel you can buy larger bags of baking soda but here in Cuenca it's hard to find in larger half pound quantity, some sort of cocaine lab use they say prohibits sale.

Chuck Brown: .

City: Cuenca