Cooking and eating through a new culture


It’s Thanksgiving. I must admit, the day snuck up on me. Without the rhythm of the seasons, months seems to slip by unnoticed and with Christmas decorations out in the stores since September, I am really confused. My only hint was the huge display of Stovetop Stuffing mix and can yams at Automercado. Granted, I have been known to pull out ALL the stops when it comes to Thanksgiving producing a butter and maple glazed free range bird befitting of a Norman Rockwell picture with chestnut and sausage stuffing topped with green apple. Since turkeys here are not normally part of the Tico diet, real maple syrup running about $30 USD for a tiny 8oz. jug, and a kitchen that is still not fully finished, I wasn’t really feeling the whole holiday vibe…yet.

As it would be, Rafa and I got invited to friend’s house. They share the same gringo/tico dynamic and have incorporated Thanksgiving into their yearly tradition. And from what I have been told, it’s not the gringos that are the most excited about this festivity. I must admit, I am rather giddy about the whole idea of turkey and knowing that my host shares many of the same principles I do in regards to food, I am positively elated. Count them…not one, but two lovely free range Costa Rican grown gobblers and one, I been told, will be smoked. They even went to visit them to thank them for taking one for the team.

Seriously, if you are destined for the dinner plate, living your life in Costa Rica is the way to go.

Since the pressure of prepping the bird was off my shoulders, I was given the task of bringing a plate to pass and needless to say, it cause enough consternation. Everything that I thought of seemed out of reach. Think about it: parsnips, yams, maple syrup, cranberries, pumpkin…all Northern delicacies. There are similar things here, but they would just miss the mark as far as I am concerned and any of the real stuff they imported would be outrageously expensive. I was flummoxed.

I brain stormed for about a day and wrote out a list to bring to the farmers market. The thing about the market is, that it’s best to be flexible since what you want may not be there and what is in season may surprise you.  I lucked out: fresh tiny brussels sprouts and small sweet spuds. AND to top it off, I decided on a Latino version of the traditional corn soup. A nice blend of past and present.

For the soup, I roasted some red peppers, onions, garlic, and ONE hot pepper until nice and smokey. Then in a pot of homemade chicken broth, I added one bay leaf, a couple of sprigs of epazote and about four cups of fresh corn along with the roasted veggies. After they simmered for about an hour, I let cool and pureed everything in my food processor until well blended but not mushy. Then I added 2 cups more of cooked corn for added texture. Before serving, I will added a sprinkle of cilantro.  The sample bowl had a wonderful blend of sweet and spicy with just a hint of smokeiness. Lovely.

For the brussels sprouts and potatoes, I used a version of the grilled brussels sprout recipe found on my new go-to website Food52. I use recipes like Ticos use driving rules: only as a suggestion.  I added extra bacon and potatoes for variety and texture.  Besides, bacon makes everything better even brussels sprouts.

I have so much to be grateful for, there are times where I just don’t know where to begin. I feel like I have been given a whole new existence, like I won some cosmic lottery because when I think back to how much I suffered through, it all just seems like a bad dream. Holidays certainly roil up a lot of emotions, but being in such a drastically different environment offers an odd perspective. All the triggers that would send me into a funk are gone. Especailly when Rafa squeezes me this morning before going to work and says, “I am so thankful for you.”


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