Cooking and eating through a new culture

Archive for the month “May, 2011”

Foreign vs. Familiar Food

Sheesh. Where have I been?

It has been oddly hectic here. Meals have been fast and furious. Weekends a blur. I was banging out a Salvadoran Pepper stew the other day and realized it was just a regular Northern stew, you guessed it, with peppers. I actually omitted the peppers, added parsley, a splash of red wine, and thickened it with a little rue. After Rafa devoured it, we retreated to the couch to watch bad tv while he rubbed his food baby and it hit me, I’ve been here about six months. Funny how time flies? It’s still amazing to think back to everything that has happened, that crazy wild plunge into the unknown. My Spanish is still woefully lacking. I can rock out a damn good gallo pinto like any Tica now. I don’t freak out as much over the array of critters that scamper around the house. Although, the geckos still delight in popping out in the most unexpected places, like on the back of one of my cookbooks.

For the most part, living here is like living on another planet. Some things are comfortingly familiar, but all in all, you really have no fucking idea what will happen next and that is how I pretty much view everything.

It’s the rainy season now and my days are dictated by the flow of afternoon showers. Automercado is at least 2k away, and I need to time my walk as not to be caught in the deluge. I have been very lucky. One afternoon, I happened to look up over my shoulder and see this amazing cloud creeping up behind me. It was a stunning tower of billowing white, edged in the golden light of the sun. “What a beautiful cloud!” I said as the first ripple of thunder caught my ear. I double timed it back to the house. I barely had my bags on the table when the sky blackened and erupted in a torrent of rain. Lightening ripped the air and shook the house. I could smell the ozone. Of course the electricity went out.

I have learned to handle the earthquakes with aplomb, even napping through a 6.0 and only rising to make sure the tv didn’t tip over. Earthquakes do have a tendency of shaking lose a shit load of dust and debris and they always hit just after I cleaned.

I’ve lived in the Pacific Northwest, in the shadow of some serious volcanos, through 22 straight days of rain, and a good size earthquake, so all of this feels rather familiar. Granted, it’s so much warmer here and I am easily able to sate my growing mango addiction. I may be a mountain range way from salt water, but the PNW has the best seafood. By far. Even by East coast standards. I have had Dungeness crab binges and woke up still smelling of butter with crab shell in my hair. Those were good times…

As much as I have adapted to my environment, many things still have stayed the same, especially my cooking. I will thumb through volumes of Latin recipes, yet end up making homemade mac n’cheese, or to the sheer delight of Rafa, fresh, hand packed hamburgers. In the farmers market, I still gravitate towards the more known varieties of vegetables. Although, I will eat all the crazy fruit I can get my hands on. Guanábana is my new favorite even though it looks like some crazy dragon egg. I am still oven-less but there is a light at the end of the kitchen! The new 220 line, with fancy new breaker box, was just installed and now I am just waiting for the electric company to hook us onto the grid. Hopefully we can squeeze them in between the lightning strikes.

Funny thing is: the first dish I am aching to make is lasagna.

Guanabana or dragon egg?


Coming Clean

I have a confession to make. It’s not something I am proud of.  In fact I have no idea how I got this way and I am amazed at how far I will go to sate my addiction. This may come as a shock…but I am a product whore.

Lotions, creams, make-up, hair products, you name it, I hoard it.  If you want to see my eyes glaze over in pure unadulterated bliss, just take me to Sephora.  I have spent an obscene amount of money on products.  There is just so much to try!  And samples? Oh, I love them and stash them everywhere. Or the value packs of multiple products! I would literally eat them up.  When Rafa and I drove down here, my car was loaded with stuff.  I bought liter size shampoo, conditioner, facial cleanser, and body soap (I didn’t know what would be here).  When we got out to stores, all I do is take a running inventory of what products they have so I know where to buy them.  I may like clothes, but I love products.  It’s a sickness…I may need therapy.

After nearly slicing my finger off after cutting open a bottle of lotion to get the very last tiny drop out, I realized I needed to make some changes.  I am jobless. Even though Rafa would give me anything I asked for, this is not the time for me.  It’s a time for us.  I can’t be ordering all this crap from the states or spending horrid amounts in Escazu for over priced products.  I must (deep breath) let go of all this frivolous nonsense…(whimper) but how?

I have to admit, my skin took a while to adjust to the tropics, and it still goes a little crazy when we hit the Caribbean.  It’s hot!  So when you pile on sunscreen, bug spray, make-up, and then sweat it all off in a matter of minutes, my sensitive gringo skin revolts.  I had pulled out everything I owned but nothing seemed to work.  It was only when I began doing research on topics in this blog that I found some awesome natural, homemade remedies.

Mango, papaya, banana, even coffee is excellent for your skin.  Why not?  I’m home alone for most of the day and everything I brought with me was just not working.  Time for a little egg on my face…literally.  For me and my oily skin, I started off with a whipped egg white mask, which did an extremely good job of tightening my skin and toning open pores.  Sometimes after I cut mangos for my fruit salad, I rub the pulp side on the skins  on my face and let dry for 10-15 minutes.  Mangos are chalked full of beta carotene (vitamin A)  and they can be used as an exfoliation and rejuvenation, because it contains AHA (alpha hydroxy acids).  Alpha hydroxy acids are nothing more than fruit acids and are often found in products claiming to reduce wrinkles or the signs of aging, and improve the overall look and feel of the skin.  The high citric acid in limes is a fantastic astringent great for oily skin.  Papaya contains the enzyme papain, which has wonderful exfoliating properties – removing dead skin, and specifically damaged skin.

I have to admit, while writing this my hair is coated in an avocado that got to mushy to eat.  Instead of tossing it, I mashed it with a little olive oil and smoothed it into my hair.  I’ll leave it in for about 20 minutes and then shampoo out.  It leaves my naturally curly hair super soft and silky.  As a leo, I love my long, lustrous hair.  Aveda has always been my go to, but I must admit, the avocado works just as good as any hair treatment I’ve tried.  An avocado facial mask is also wonderful for dry skin.

Now this one can get a little messy, but coffee grounds used as a body scrub has been known to reduce cellulite.  In a 2008 study performed at the University of São Paulo, researchers found that an application of skin cream containing caffeine to cellulite reduced the size of cellulite fat cells by 17 percent.  In addition, a 2007 study performed at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro found that caffeine cream applied to cellulite decreased the hip’s diameter in almost 70 percent of participants. Caffeine is a vasodilator, which means it constricts blood vessels in the skin. This action works to make blood vessels tighter and firmer very quickly, which is reflected in your skin texture.  Granted, it makes a mess out of my shower but it does smell nice.

Now, I know this all sounds a tad hippy dippy but I have been getting great results.  There is more money in my bank account and my skin is noticeably healthier.  I have also been able to breeze through the MAC store in Escazu in a few minutes.  Rafa settled into a store chair thinking he was there for the long haul when I said (gasp), I had all I needed at home.

Now in a few weeks I am heading stateside to see friends and family (to prove I haven’t been sold into white slavery) and to pick up the rest of my belongings.  Six months have gone by in the flash of an eye.  It will be exciting to see everyone…including my hairdresser.

I bow before you, oh temple of products.

Costa Rican S’mores

I’ve never been a big breakfast person. Coffee lasts me until late morning and then I usually just make an early lunch.  With Rafa at work during the day, I usually just nibble at things. This goes against the Costa Rican standard as breakfast as a MEAL. I mean, it’s a spread of gallo pinto, eggs, squeaky cheese, bread, etc. A food coma first thing in the day is just not my speed.

After the festivities of Easter, I found myself with a huge bag of quickly ripening plantains. Whereas bananas are normally eaten raw, plantains are better cooked or fried. Again, it’s another starch in the Latino diet but one I liberally eat. My only pause being boiled plantains, which I will always gratefully decline or just scoop onto Rafa’s plate. So, as a result of having an over abundance of ripe plantains, time, and a ravenous sweet tooth, I happened upon creating my version of the Costa Rican S’more.

To ease the cloud of fruit flies that were developing over them, I began cooking them for my mid morning snack. In fact, the fruit flies are an excellent indication that the plantains are ready to be fried since the more ripe they are (or the nastier they look), the sweeter they taste.  After I battled back the flies, I peeled off the skins and cut away any hard parts. Plantains don’t have the mush factor of bananas, but they will get some unusual hard parts. Sliced lengthwise a little less than a quarter-inch thick makes cooking easier. I put down a thick layer of olive oil in my trusty cast iron pan and heat to just about sizzling. I have seen some recipes call for additional sugar, but I don’t think it’s that necessary. Instead, I pour in a bit of fresh vanilla extract I bought in Mexico. Watch for the splash factor. Cover for two minutes, then flip the plantains for another 2-3 minutes. They should have a nice golden brown, carmelized color. Cool and dab away any excess oil.

Now this is where it gets exciting! For a few days, I just ate them plain…boring…so I began to experiment. There are crackers down here similar to graham called Fibra y Miel and I always have them on hand in case of a sweet attack. I began putting slices of fried plantains on the crackers and swooned over the sweet, crunchy taste. For an added savory touch, I topped it off with a dollop of natilla, which is more like a sour cream than a custard. Back stateside, I’m sure you could use clotted cream or marzipan even. The discovery of some left over bakers chocolate added another dimension when lightly grated over the morsel, although the added effort proved to be too much and I just ate them with the natilla. Voilà! The Costa Rican S’more. A completely local concoction created by moi. Delicious with coffee.

I would have offered a picture but I eat them too fast.

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