Working on my Burgers

Last week I made Burgers for dinner.

Burger

Farm-stand fresh asparagus, tomato, basil and fresh mozzarella salad dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The mess on the left is a cheeseburger patty smothered in caramelized onions and topped with crimini mushrooms sauteed in butter and Madeira.

I’ve discovered a great way to season the burgers and it works with ground lamb too. I start by making the patty, then putting a decent amount of fresh cracked pepper on the patty, and folding that in half. I then Reforming the patty and pepper the outside again. Then I let it rest for at least 15 minutes, but preferably an hour. Then pan sear.

This weekend I did this again but with lamb burgers for the guys. We then topped with triple-cream brie and the caramelized onions. Soooo amazingly good.

Posted in Cooking

Going to try this ice cream base next

2 cups whole milk
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 1/2 ounces cream cheese, softened (3 tablespoons)
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
2/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

Fill a large bowl with ice water. In a small bowl, mix 2 tablespoons of the milk with the cornstarch. In another large bowl, whisk the cream cheese until smooth.
In a large saucepan, combine the remaining milk with the heavy cream, sugar, corn syrup and vanilla bean and seeds. Bring the milk mixture to a boil and cook over moderate heat until the sugar dissolves and the vanilla flavors the milk, about 4 minutes. Off the heat, gradually whisk in the cornstarch mixture. Return to a boil and cook over moderately high heat until the mixture is slightly thickened, about 1 minute.
Gradually whisk the hot milk mixture into the cream cheese until smooth. Whisk in the salt. Set the bowl in the ice water bath and let stand, stirring occasionally, until cold, about 20 minutes.
Strain the ice cream base into an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Pack the ice cream into a plastic container.
Press a sheet of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the ice cream and close with an airtight lid. Freeze the vanilla ice cream until firm, about 4 hours.

 

from here

Posted in Cooking

Sou, Sou-Vide-eo!

Bad pun/reference, I know. My life is full of them and Phil Collins would probably shoot me for that one. But what he wouldn’t shoot me for is the luscious offerings from out D.I.Y. sous-vide cooker. This project, which has been in the works for well over a year has finally come to fruition. As I write four lovely, bacon-wrapped filet mignons, gently massaged with olive oil, fresh cracked pepper and sea salt are luxuriating in a bain maire of 54 degrees Celsius. Not 55 or 53… exactly 54. And in that gently circulating bath of precisely controlled water, good things happen. Very good things, indeed. It’s the magic of sous-vide.

Indulge me with my primer or skip on down:

Everyone is familiar with time cooking. It’s what we do because we can’t accurately control the cooking temperature. Ok, maybe so in an oven to a general range of degrees, but even then we are really just controlling how quickly the heat penetrates whatever is in the pot. We ask questions that are in essence: Is the cake dry enough inside? Is the connective tissue hot enough to have broken down? All of this is based on cooking with too high of a temperature with timing being the critical component. What we are not used to doing is saying ” That meat needs to be 128 degrees and it needs to be that temperature all of the way through. And therein lies the value of sous-vide cooking. So what’s the deal?

First, the two French terms: Bain maire=water bath and sous-vide= without air. So we are cooking to an exact specified temperature in a tightly controlled water bath in an airless container. Why the temperature control? Consider the filet mignon. While it is a cut prized for it’s tenderness, it is basically devoid of fat. Overcook it and it instantly becomes lifeless and tough. At a perfect rare/medium, it is unctuous, but raise the temp too much and it’s lost it’s glory. That’s the magic that sous-vide delivers. So what  else can sous-vide do? Think custard-y yoked soft boiled eggs with perfectly jelled whites-every timme without fail. Think fish, poached to exact doneness evenly through. Or think vegetables cooked perfectly, but not tough. Sous-vide is a whole new palate to discover, a cooking technique that honors the essence of food. And so, with this new cooking vision you might ask yourself; “And how can this sous vide? For it is the Kwisatz Haderach!” (groan)

Enough. Now to the real stuff.

IMG_2520

Vegetable steamer with center post unscrewed. For accuracy the probe is positioned so that it does not touch the wall, the food or the basket.

Our D.I.Y. sous-vide cooker project was a lot of start and stop with mostly a lot of stop, owing to the fact that our ancient Daisy (yes, Daisy) deep fryer has doubled as a sous-vide cooker with a little help from our digital temp/timer gadget plus an expandable vegetable steamer basket in the bottom, I felt that the basket was important because it keeps the food from coming in contact to the heating element in the bottom as it cycles on and off. The temperature does bounce up and down as I fiddle with the analogue dial trying to get the temp to settle in to where I want it.  But as the water and food come close to the desired cooking temperature I am able to adjust the dial so that it barely kicks off and on. Fortunately unlike cooking over a flame,  small variations in temperature are easily tolerated. If the water gets slightly too hot while the food is not to temp, then turning off the heat will let it settle back.  In the end Daisy turned in very respectable results and taught me a lot about  this style of cooking. In may ways, that $9.95 cooker from K-Mart has gone way above and beyond; I fry in it, I sous-vide in it, I slow cook in it. Money very well spent!IMG_2516

A caution about sous-vide cooking: Pathogens. As a species we learned early on that heating an edible beyond certain temperatures stopped us getting sick sometimes. I refer you to the PolyScience page  http://www.cuisinetechnology.com/blog/food-safety-with-sous-vide-cooking/ for the real skinny on how to keep everyone happy and enjoying your cooking. Plus you can find other good info there while you are at it.

If you want to experiment with sous-vide on the relatively cheap you can buy a sous-vide controller that is designed to control your favorite crock pot or deep fryer and there are those that swear by them. Or you can fiddle with my makeshift setup to go really cheap, but be prepared for a bit of a learning curve. I was aware of these crockpot controllers before we started but that sort of setup was not our end goal-plus I just love to tinker. We wanted a dedicated sous-vide cooker so that we could get the best possible results and that meant building our own sous-vide box.

20130908_165531

Here is the completed box in the testing stage. The instant-read thermometer on the left side is our control tester. I did that to confirm that the water, which circulates counter-clockwise, was getting to the correct temperature. The black tape on the box below the instant-read is the water fill line.

Fast forward several months. I started this post a while ago but then wanted to actually have the box done before continuing, so now that its done and in use, here we go:

The actual box is a covered container from the Home Depot. I chose it because it has a lid that has locks on either end (the green clips), is 3 gal., which is enough water to cook in but not so much that the heaters can’t keep up. Plus it is rectangular which allows for good food placement and water flow.  After assembling the electronics I screwed the plastic control box to the lid of the cooking box. This way removing the lid pulls everything out of the water for easy access.  We assembled the electrics according to the DIY post and with a little fiddling, had it working in no time. The only real issue is that if the water temperature is way outside of the range of the controller-like 20+ degrees, the controller will not cycle correctly and overshoot. This is something that we haven’t figured out how to fix, so our solution for now is to let the water get to the right temperature and then turn the controller on/off. This resets it and it works fine from there. I did have one construction issue; I found that I had to seal the holes in the lid for the heaters and the probe better because moisture was getting into the electronics box. My first attempt with silicone didn’t stick well to the plastic box material, but tub and tile sealant did the trick. So now she is tight, moisture free and is a sous-vide cooking machine!

So far we have done steaks, butter-poached lobster, soft-boiled eggs, asparagus and a few other things. Our favorites, of course are the proteins, especially steaks. What a treat! Filet mignon is the perfect cut for the sous-vide/grill treatment. Cooked to a perfect rare/medium and then thrown on the grill for a very quick sear, it is heaven on a plate. Literally. We use a grilling plate heated way up for a fast sear. Within less than a couple of minutes we’ve crusted both sides to taste and kissed the edges. Because the thickness does not let the center rise during the short sear, the steaks remains perfectly cooked to the sous-vide temperature.

As we have learned sous-vide cooking is perfect for dinner parties. The great thing is that the steaks can be done hours before and just sit there, patiently waiting for the grill.  There are no timing issues and since you are only searing, no under/overcooking issues. It really amazes your guests when in one second you are throwing steaks on the grill and then in the next you are serving them these perfect steaks. Yeah. You’re the Grillmaster!

Oh, and the lobster? Succulent with great texture and not even a hint of a chance of them going rubbery. Just like steak, lobster and other lean proteins like chicken breast benefit greatly from cooking to temperature. All of the overcooking side effects like toughness and dryness are banished by the sous-vide method. The only real downside is that it takes a bit of forethought. Dinner will not be on the table within a half hour from scratch, but you can do your cooking ahead of time and have it ready to go in the refrigerator. When you are ready, just bring it back to serving temp. I’m sure that I’ll have more on this in the future. In the meantime, I have several hours that I want to devote to the perfect steak!

Posted in Home

This and That

Living room furnished

Not finished, but you can get a sense of scale. Unfortunately this view doesn’t shown the spaciousness.

I thought that I might share some of the other photos that I took around the condo. Here is the living room with some of the new furniture from Ikea. We like the scale and it fits the room perfectly. The TV is a 50″ with a sound bar and a subwoofer and is hooked up to a media laptop, which is perfect for streaming from the internet. We decided that rather than a cable package, internet access was much more important since we have a Slingbox and everything from our rather extensive DirectTV service (plus everything that we record) is available. Also, we have a very extensive movie collection on our server and with internet access it’s all available.

The master bedroom now has a very comfy king-sized bed from Ikea. I really hate most of the beds that we have found in our apartment rentals. They generally fall between just OK to really miserable wooden pallets. If you are going to rent a place, at least make your guests comfortable. What’s interesting is that the bed hardly seems to be a kMaster bedroom furnitureing, the room is so big. The master bedroom could easily be 1/3rd smaller and you would not feel cramped at all. The question now is how to fill it. The walk-in closet has shelves and racks, with more than enough room for clothes. It even has room for a chest of drawers, if needed. We still want to paint the room and add the a/c unit under the window. That will be for the fall trip.

I took this picture from our front terrace to show the finished paint job on the building opposite us. It really came out well. To date they have painted two of the buildings and have started on the third one, which is in our Ensueno section.

Painting complete.

Painting complete.

The office told us that the next building to be painted will be ours, but we’ll see. For now I am just as happy looking at a finished building rather than living in one.

Back of condo

Plantain trees right outside our wall.

I also took a picture of the back of our building. Since we were here in November, one of our neighbors has started a plantain plantation right behind our wall! It really looks great from the back yard. We see them out there every day tending to it. One of the things that we learned at the closing is that the builder went bankrupt, which is how the bank wound up with these units. The area above us was supposed to be developed as another phase with high end town homes and apartments. The street is there along with the drainage system although it is overgrown and a bit in disrepair. I walked to the top and there are great views over this side of the island.

The view from the hill top looking towards the sea.

The view from the hill top looking towards the sea.

I asked at the office if there would be future development but apparently no plans are in the works. So for now we get the view of the hill and the plantain trees and with a walk to the top of the hill, a great vista to be enjoyed.

Posted in Puerto Rico

Until the fall

So we are back in New Jersey. The return week was a whirlwind of catching up but now things are slowing down. Time to reflect on Casa Anolis again.

We didn’t get everything done, but the projects that are left are relatively minor. I still have to install the a/c units in the bedroom. The master bedroom never had one and after thinking about the project, I realized that power tools will have to accompany me on the next trip as there is a plywood blank that has to be cut to take the unit. Fortunately we stocked the apartment in such a way that we need no carry-ons. Clothes, toiletries etc., were left behind so the luggage can be just for the things that we want to go down.

kitchen appliances

The current kitchen layout.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the kitchen and how to remodel it. The goal will be to substantially upgrade the look and function without breaking the bank by ripping everything out. There currently is no space for a dishwasher and the awkward angled counter has to go. I can’t imagine who thought that it was a good idea! The current layout traps you in the kitchen and the angled counter makes opening the refrigerator a tight squeeze. So, current thought is that the main layout will become an “L” with a rectangular work island.

Here's a quick sketch of what we are considering.

Here’s a quick sketch of what we are considering.

The cabinet to the left of the sink with the garage in the base will lose the garage and become just a wall cabinet. It’s a rather deep cabinet and I may consider making it a normal depth, but that’s a lot of re-doing. One thought is just to replace it. Given that it is just a white Fomica-covered cabinet, that might not be too difficult to do. Another thought is to do a series of floating open shelves in its place The sink will become a deep, single under mount unit. A new dishwasher will go in to the left of the sink and the new granite counter top will extend to the terrace door. The peninsula base cabinet will become the base for a rectangular work island with room for bar stools. With the peninsula changed to an island there will be enough room to open the dishwasher and also to allow for a second access to the sink area. This will get rid of the counter trap which severely limits two people cooking and give a flow to the kitchen that there is not now.  The new island will add real functionality that’s currently missing. Our butcher block island at home is about the same size that we are contemplating and we use it comfortably almost to the exclusion of the rest of the kitchen’s counter tops when doing prep work.

The cabinets are actually very well made. With the exception of the drawer glides which I want to change to the “soft close” kind and the addition of some nice pulls, they will do nicely. Naturally the back splash will get a makeover to upgrade the look. The changes will probably happen in stages. Unfortunately to get the granite counter tops in requires everything to be in place so that the templates can be done. This takes time and will require an extended stay of some kind. I will have to install the dishwasher and it’s base and position the island. Then I will have to use plywood to make temporary counter tops so that everything will be like the finished project. That way, when they come to make the templates there is no guesswork as to what the counters will look like.

So, with a plan for the kitchen in mind our attention will be on the back yard. Dean wants to use Trex, which is a nice idea, but it’s not inexpensive. Given that I want to hire this project out it may be a while. The kitchen should come first. We will have to do something intermediate  for the moment. That is, unless Powerball come through!

Posted in Puerto Rico

Going with the flow.

Our time for this trip is starting to wind down but I am still knee-deep in projects. Every day we get things done but we are constantly adding new projects. Fortunately they are rapidly becoming minor ones.

One of the biggies that we are tackling right now is the plumbing. Along with a new kitchen sink faucet I also installed a garbage disposal. The switch and electricity were right there so it was only a matter of taking out the old sink trap and putting the unit into place.

One thing that we discovered is that the water pressure for Monet Sol is quite high, much to Dean’s showering pleasure but not so good for the valves and faucets. I met with the condo office manager today and she informed me that a lot of the residents have flow compensators put in to help protect the valves, etc. Since we will not be here a fair amount of the time for now, the worry of unchecked flooding does concern us. When we were here a few days I discovered that one of the utility sink faucets was problematic and started leaking. I was able to get it to stop but I need to replace it and upon investigation, found that the only way to turn off the water to the apartment was at the water meter. Sooo… we are having a compensator put in tomorrow which handily enough will include a cutoff valve, as the only way to change the laundry sink faucet right now is to have the water company come and turn it off.  And while we are on plumbing issues, just for good measure I am re-doing the toilet innards.  I discovered that one of the heads to the bolts holding the tank to the base in the master bathroom had corroded away. The bolt felt loose and when I went to tighten it, it just spun-and started to leak. Both toilets it turns out, have the same issues so replacement it is!  All of this is to be expected, I guess. It’s 10-plus years of maintenance that’s overdue.  Fortunately the only area of real concern is the plumbing. Everything else is fine.

Oh, coming back from the hardware store we spotted this fella having lunch under a date palm in our complex. He is actually pretty big. I guesstimate that he’s easily five-plus feet from head to the tip of his tail.  I approached him slowly and he hardly noticed me taking his picture.  I grew up with these guys. They look ferocious but they are no threat. They are plant eaters and take off quickly if you get too close too fast. Nice neighbor.New neighbor

Posted in Puerto Rico

At last.

Wed, 4/30

Finally. We have closed on Monte Sol at last. It only took from our offer being accepted in November until the 30th of April to get to the closing table. The bank took forever to get it’s act together. To this day I still don’t know what took them so long. Closing was a bit of a zoo. I’ve closed  on properties several times, but never in another language. Fortunately our real estate agent, Sandy Ramos was at the table fighting for our cause. She certainly knows her stuff and was our best advocate! She insisted on them giving us copies of things that they normally wouldn’t, which would help us avoid future problems when we choose to sell. She is very passionate about her profession and it shows. We simply could not have had a better person at the table with us. Well, that is over. We are now the new owners of E 4-3.  Let the work begin!

Thurs, 5/1

First up is all of the running around to get the water and electricity turned on. To do that we had to get the plumbing and electrical certifications from the bank and take them to the appropriate offices. Fortunately after picking up the certs from the bank in San Juan, a kind Puertorican, overhearing the bank employee telling me that he had no idea where to find the electric utility company, directed me to go several blocks right down the street. Sure enough, there it was. As my Spanish is, umm rusty at its very best, I had to rely on the kindness of strangers. And I am pleased to report that there were many kind strangers to help me though the process. I like this place! After getting out of San Juan just in the nick of time (rush hour) we headed to the Home Depot for a shopping reconnaissance trip. We’ve got appliances and ceiling fans to buy and we needed to do some comparisons. We then headed across the street to Sam’s Club where we will be dropping a lot of cash. We have until the 6th to get the utilities on and at least beds into Monte Sol as that’s when we are out of our rented apartment in Luquillo.

Fri, 5/2

This morning it’s off to the water company in Fajardo to get that turned on. Then we have to head over to Ikea and see about beds and some furniture. Then it’s Home Depot time! We are ordering all of our appliances through them…because they will deliver to our apartment for free. Can’t wait. We are in the Luquillo apartment until Tues the 6th. and we have to schedule all deliveries to arrive on or before then. Ikea is the most important one since that shipment includes the beds. I don’t want to be sleeping on a tile floor-even for one night!

Tues, 5/6

Out of the Luquillo apartment and off to Monte Sol. Ikea arrived on Monday and we will be spending the day putting everything together. Home Depot arrives tomorrow. Oh yes, a trip to Bed, Bath and Beyond is in the cards today. Have to figure out why no electricity or water, should have been on by now.

Fri 5/9

The last week has been a blur of endless shopping and work. I never thought that I would get so tired of pulling out my credit card. My advice is that you should buy Home Depot, Ikea and Walmart/Sam’s stock, because given what we’ve spent, each one should rise by at least five points. We’ve run into a few snags along the way. It turns out that the stack washer/dryer was too deep for the laundry closet, which turns out to be only 28″ deep. It had to go back. There are units that will work, but they will have to be custom ordered and, no surprise, cost more than you would think they should. Way more. Surprisingly the 26 cu ft fridge doesn’t look that big in the cabinet. It would have been nice to have a counter depth model, but none was available. The stove is a real gem. I’ve never seen such a versatile cook top. The new sink faucet went in quickly but the stove vent is going to take more work. It also turned out to be too deep for the cabinet. I have a fix, but it will require re-positioning the cabinet. Maybe not this trip. The counter-top turns out to have had  water damage in the corner and is now soft from delamination. New counter-tops are planned, but not this trip. We want granite but unfortunately it take time to measure, cut and install. Definitely not this trip. But hey, everything looks nice for now.

kitchen appliances

Kitchens look (and work) much better with appliances.

Well, today’s project is the new split a/c unit going into the living room. We started with an 18,000 btu unit from Home Depot, but when the rep came out he pretty much convinced us that the unit was too small and wanted to up sell us to a 22,000 btu unit. After he left we got suspicious and did a lot of online research, all of which pointed to an 18,000 btu unit as correct. We then talked with Salvadore, the general manager for the complex and he offered to put us in touch with a local Carrier guy who he knew. Ruben turned out to be a very nice guy with many years of a/c experience and clearly a straight-shooter. He confirmed what we thought, that the 22,000 unit was too big and would cause us problems (like I had read) because it would over-compensate for the space. He recommended an 18,000 unit-just like we had thought. So, we decided that Ruben would be our new a/c guy and today he is installing our unit. He has his work cut out for him as the builder had done some crazy things like putting the drain in the wall too high and making the channel for the copper tubing with too sharp a bend.

What had to be done to get the a/c lines to the roof.

What had to be done to get the a/c lines to the roof.

Ruben had to cut a big hole in the wall to fix things. Not a big deal for sheet rock, not a small task for concrete. So what started out as a couple of small openings in the living room wall has turned into exposed re-bar and a 10″ X 16″ hole. Clearly patching and a new paint job are in the works. We were going to wait on color selection for the wall until later, but not now.

To back track a bit, yesterday the morning was spent installing the sink faucet, putting the vent hood up and positioning the stove and refrigerator. We decided that water line for the refrigerator was a “later” project and feeding it under/through the cabinets is going to be a real task. The afternoon we took off for a bit of a break and we went into the mountains to Guavate, a very small village known  for it’s lechonerias, or pork places. The twisty, windy road is lined with wonderful eateries that become jam-packed on the weekends. Pit-roasted whole pig is a big deal, here! Dean and I had been to “El Rancho Original’ or “The Original Ranch” on our last trip and we were ready to go back. What they do is give the pig a deep brine and then slow roast it for hours on end. Everything comes family-style with large helpings of sides. Today we had the Spanish saffron rice with pigeon peas and roasted yellow sweet potatoes. More than enough pork, the two sides and three beers set us back…$32.00. You just can’t beat it. The other nice thing about a drive to the mountains is that at over 3,000 feet up, the air is permanently cooler with temperatures in the high 60’s-low 70’s. We had rain on the way up and  it was quite cool, if not a bit chilly. So if you get tired of sun and sand, a quick trip to the mountains will refresh you. Interestingly, as we were going up the clouds were breaking over the mountain sides. They’re a little bit of “home visuals” for Dean. If it weren’t for the abundance of tropical vegetation, this could be almost like the Northwest. All of this change in climate is maybe 50 miles from Monte Sol. On the way back we stopped at the small town of Naguabo, which is on the coast and a few miles below Ceiba to check out a local fish vendor named Vinny’s that we had heard about. They were closed at that moment so we didn’t get to look around, but we will be back. We were told that Vinny’s is a place that the local fishermen bring their catch to, so it might be the perfect place to get local caught seafood.  I’ll do a complete post on what I’ve found in the way of local food sourcing later.

At this point we feel like we are over the hump and can relax a bit. We have much more to do with the apartment like blinds, etc., but we are in and it is livable as is. Now maybe a little beach time!Macho beach 1

 

 

Posted in Puerto Rico

Casa Anolis. Automated

First, we finally got a closing date. On Arpil 30th, Casa Anolis becomes ours. Casa Anolis roughly means House of the Anolis. When we first walked into the back garden area I was struck by the number of Anoles (type of little lizard) all over the place. Fortunately I’m fond of them.anole

Second, home automation is not cheap, but it’ll give us peace of mind and some of it will pay us back within a year in energy savings. Within 5 years the energy savings will pay for all of it. The cost of electricity right now is $.25-.29/KWh on the island depending on where you live. More than double what most people in the states pay, so every little bit goes a long way.

It starts with the brains of the automation. A small device that doesn’t use a lot of electricity to do its job. The Revolv is just the thing to do that. Even if internet goes down it can still tell the other things what to do.

Speaking of internet, I already use 3 Cisco RV120W for the house and the stores for VPN, I’ll just add one more so we can access stuff in Villa Mantu from Casa Anoli.

Because we’ll be far away and may rent it out and may need maintenance done when we aren’t there, a wireless electronic doorlock fits that need perfectly via the Schlage FE599NX. Combine that with some INSTEON Wireless Open/Close Sensors to monitor the 4 entrances and security is pretty much taken care of too.

Next comes Utility management. Electricity is expensive so next comes Insteon 2477SA2 to turn off the hot water heater when no one is staying there. The INSTEON 2852-222 Water Leak Sensor will tell the Smarthome SELECT Electronic Water Shutoff Valve to turn off the water. We’ll also be able to turn off the water to the condo when no one is there.

 

 

Posted in Puerto Rico

…And now we wait for the bank.

Well, closing on the condo isn’t happening quickly.  It’s been a rather long and winding process that is still in the works with FirstBank of Puerto Rico. We sent off the signed contract and our earnest money on the 12th of December via UPS 2nd day.

At first there was a flurry of activity and then silence. I kept emailing our contact at the bank getting back only an “out of office until” notice. True, it was Christmas/New Year so I was patient.  But after another email in late January with no response, I finally called Sandy, our broker at ReMax and asked that if she could get in touch with her contact at the bank and find out what was up.  She apparently got someone’s attention because shortly afterwards I received a letter and an email asking me for updated bank statements and a lot of documents that I had previously provided. Hmmm…. seems someone was moved on/up/out? I now have a new contact. I will have to ask Sandy if she has any idea what was up with that. I wish that this ended here but today when I sent an email looking for a possible closing date to my new contact, I received an “out of office until” reply. Hmmm…. again?

On the plus side, we did get the appraisal back and as anticipated, it is at a market value considerably above our purchase price. This was REO property (a foreclosure owned by the bank), something that I have experience with. REO/distressed properties are properties that a lot of people shy away from because it usually means that the property is not at it’s finest visually or may need deferred maintenance done. Sometimes the mere fact that the property is labeled “foreclosure” just makes it sound “suspect” to most. I love to look at them because there is always a lot of unclaimed equity sitting on the closing table and if a property has “good bones” I am in.  This place was suffering from nothing more than the “foreclosure” label. It is going to need appliances, paint, some landscaping and a little updating, but nothing more than the sort of things that any new owner would want. The complex is only 12 years old, well maintained and built to code so there are no risks with this condo purchase.

So while we wait for the bank, Dean and I are doing a lot of investigation into home automation. There will be extended periods of non-occupancy so we are looking into various ways to turn things on and off remotely via the internet. No one likes paying big energy bills and since Puerto Rico has very expensive water and electricity, those bills can be high. Currently the kWh rate is around $.26 while the US average is at $.12-.14 per kWh. At twice the cost it doesn’t take too much effort to rack up a $500.00 plus monthly bill, even without running the a/c. So far we’ve lined up a whole list of devices. The issue we are running into is that all of these things talk in different languages on different wifi frequencies. What we need here is (drum roll) One Ring to Rule Them All. And of course Dean found it! (my precioussss!)

The One Ring is:  Revolv

Revolv has no problem controlling all of the devices that we are interested in. They show up on the Revolv iPad app which then gives us control from anywhere. So far we’ve found a valve that can be controlled to turn the water on/off (no fear of broken pipes), a device to turn the hot water heater off, ones to handle the a/c units, the refrigerator, the lights, the TV etc. The application also neatly integrates a scheduler to handle everything automatically. For example, the hot water heater can be turned on the night before an arrival,  a/c units set to cool  a couple of hours in advance and as we pull into our parking spot, lights can be turned on along with the stereo. Pure magic! It will be as if we never left.

Of course, along with this ability to control everything remotely we are looking for ways to be efficient when we are there. We will be investing in energy efficient appliances, LED lighting, etc.  Given that the research we’ve already done to date has taken us down several paths, I am sure that this topic will be the subject of many more posts as we select the pieces and work out the kinks.

Meanwhile, we wait for the bank.

 

Edit update:

Well no sooner I had posted this, the papers from the bank arrived. Yes, this very afternoon! Funny how that works. I guess that my new contact really was on the ball after all and managed to “un-stick” the “stuck”.  Ok then! Now that we have papers in hand we can move forward and plan the closing date. Soon Montesol E 4-3 will be ours!

Posted in Puerto Rico

A place in the sun

Montesol main gate

For years now I have been nattering on (for lack of a better term) about escaping the dreary northeast winters. We’ve tossed ideas around about my eventual retirement to someplace like Ecuador, St Croix, Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, etc. You get the picture. They are all year-round warm climates with coastal cities.  So, it’s no surprise that during our recent trip to Puerto Rico a visit with a real estate agent was on the agenda. I’ve been looking on-line for some time now and several places caught my eye.

With  the help of our ReMax broker Sandy and our agent Santos, we zeroed in on the Monte Sol condominium complex on a hillside outside of  downtown Fajardo and close to Ceiba, home of the former Roosevelt Roads Naval Station. We like this side of the island for it’s more verdant look as it rains here more often. With easy access to Culebra and Vieques (a $2.50 ferry ride away), the El Yunque rain forest, really great beaches and snorkeling spots within minutes of the complex, there is a nice variety of things to do in this area. Plus, it’s just plain beautiful in this part of the island.

While the vast majority of the Monte Sol condos are the typical rectangular room layouts, when the developer angled a couple of the building to follow the hillside the center apartments wound up with irregular shapes and quite a bit larger.  The first apartment we saw like this was a penthouse with a roof terrace. Unfortunately the building location puts it adjacent to the (very convenient) Monte Sol shopping center overlooking the Amigo supermarket’s air conditioners, which hum loudly. Since the noise is constant and will always be there we felt that it was too much of a negative to overcome. Fortunately luck was with us and there was another apartment like this one available. MonteSol E 4-3 turned out to be a very quiet 1st floor apartment with a nice back yard at the very top of the complex, far from any noise.

Our apartment is directly above the planter. Our parking area is the 2nd from the left of the planter.

Our apartment is directly above the planter. Our parking area is the 2nd from the left of the planter.

looking at the front of the building, the apartment is the one directly above the plants. The apartment comes in at a very generous 1,634 sq. ft. with a fenced yard of  roughly 746 sq. ft. The standard apartments range from approximately 1,100 to 1,250 sq. ft., making these few apartments considerably more spacious. The entrance staircase is to the right of the plants and we will have the second parking bay to the left of the plants. The bay has two in line parking spots with a large double door storage closet. The one thing that you can’t see is that the apartment becomes much wider at the back. The wedge shape offers some really interestingly shaped rooms.

This view from the front terrace is looking left to the El Yunque rain forest. It is the only tropical rain forest in the United States National Forest System. The complex is being repainted terra cotta and sand, a real improvement over the current pink and blue in our opinion!

This view from the front terrace is looking left to the El Yunque rain forest. It is the only tropical rain forest in the United States National Forest System. The complex is being repainted terra cotta and sand, a real improvement over the current pink and blue in our opinion!

We did look at some standard apartments and  there were some with rooftop terraces available, but the complex’s location on the hillside does not afford any real ocean views  so we don’t feel terribly deprived not having a rooftop terrace.  What we do like about the garden apartment is that it is larger and much more interesting than the rectangular units and that plus its very quiet location is what won us over in the end. So an offer went in and after a little negotiation we and the bank agreed on a price. Now the fun begins. In the meantime here are some pictures of the 3 bedroom 2 bath condo Monte Sol E4-3.

Living room

Here’s a view of the angled living room. The tiles are 1 foot square, so it should be fairly easy to get a sense of scale. The open door on the right goes to the terrace across the front. The terrace is roughly 12′ wide by 6′ deep. The open door to the left is the main entrance. The lovely hanging globes will give way to ceiling fans-this the tropics, after all!

Kitchen

This is a view towards the terrace door. While the kitchen is not “gourmet” big it is certainly serviceable. The lack of appliances is cheerfully reflected in the sale price-which is fine for us. I hate having to pay for old appliances that I will just replace.

Kitchen

To the right of the refrigerator cabinet is the dining area. It’s larger than it looks-I did not get the whole wall in the picture. Below you can get a sense of the front terrace size.

It's a decent sized terrace, certainly big enough to sip wine on!

It’s a decent sized terrace, certainly big enough to sip wine on!

I captured this image from a video that I took of the back yard. The nice thing is that since the yard is cut out of the hillside, there is a six foot plus concrete wall enclosing it which gives it a very private feel. With east/west alignment lengthwise (the front of the apartment faces north) we should get decent sun, if the Google Earth image below is any indicator. There are plantain/banana trees on the hillside along with avocado trees and I think that some of these might just show up in the “garden”. Right now there is no landscaping and our first thoughts are to make it as “no maintenance” as possible with gravel, decking and ground cover.Back yard

I did a quick sketch of the floor plan based on the pictures that I took. It’s not perfect given the angles of the walls but I think that it gives a good feel for the spaces. The back yard is slightly deeper than I show, but I was running out of room on the paper.

Montesol E 4-3

Below you can get a better idea of how the apartment is laid out in the building with this snapshot from Google Earth. The angled retainer wall for the back yard defines the walls of the apartment. The road that you see going up behind the building goes to the cell towers on the top of the hill and it dead ends there. It is only accessible from the complex itself.

Looking at the top of the triangle of buildings you can see the blue bottom of a small pool. Since the complex is on a hillside, this is the closest pool. There is the main pool plus the social area visible in the upper left of the picture but as the hill is steep, access is only from the front of the complex. There is also a 3rd pool for residents in the other section of the complex. At the end of our building opposite the cell tower road there is a tennis court.    Montesol Apt2a

Here is a Google Earth picture of the area below Fajardo-click to enlarge. We are located within a mile of the Puerto Del Rey Marina, one of the largest in the Caribbean which is able to handle 1,100 boats. Needless to say, this is boating country. Within a couple of miles is Playa Los Machos which is a really lovely white sand beach that was practically deserted the day we were there. To the south of that is the city of Ceiba (pronounced say-ba) and the former Roosevelt Roads Navy Base which is being redeveloped and whose airport infrastructure (servicing small local planes for now) is slated to become an international airport. The area at the water’s edge is a very large mangrove bayou which the Puerto Rican kayackers club loves to visit. I see water crafts in our futFajardo areaure….

Posted in Puerto Rico