Cooking and eating through a new culture

Feliz Navidad

Ahhh, the holidays. Commercialization and over-consumption at its finest, with a heavy dose of self-reflection tinged with guilt and self-pity. My Father was never big on Christmas. “I hate wholesome.”, he would growl at an age where I should have still been pining for Santa. Even the very act of getting a tree was a stretch at times, so needless to say, tradition was not nurtured or practiced in my house. That doesn’t mean I do not enjoy the holidays. I may not encompass the rabid Christmas frenzy but I do long for…I don’t know, something. I’ve never been able to really put my finger on it, but yeah…something.

Last year, Christmas was a blur. We had only been in country a few scant days and I was still reeling from getting to know my new environment. We had dinner at Rafa’s parents with the rest of the family and all I remember was being tired and so wonderfully overwhelmed. This year, we had decided to take the reins and arrange the Christmas meal.

It was going to be a simpler affair. In September (yes, September) we went to a department store and saw THIS.

The Costa Rican Black Christmas Tree

I have seen white, frosted, purple and silver, but this black one was a first for me. In my wilder days, I would have loved to get it but I had a feeling it really wouldn’t be appreciated as much as I would have wanted to be here. As it stands, Ticos do enjoy real trees for the holidays. They are not the traditional pines and blue spruces, but a carefully trimmed home-grown fragrant cypress. I was intrigued and Rafa would have gotten me one, but I settled on a durable Norfolk Pine house plant I bought last year.

It’s a delicate little tree so I could only put on a few light ornaments, but it still is quite lovely. I only packed one box of Christmas things. As crabby as my Dad was about Christmas, I did inherit some sweet old glass ornaments. Ok, I just took them. It’s not like he would ever use them.

Ticos certainly do get into the full on Christmas mode, even so far as decorating their homes with signs that say “Let it snow!” Sheesh, if it ever did really snow here, you know the apocalypse is coming. What you do get here more that I would have expected are fireworks. All of December, I could hear the pop and distant booms of fireworks accumulating in a Christmas day (at the stroke of midnight) extravaganza. Although, I was rather puzzled at the mid-day display, at high noon no less. Kinda defeats the whole idea to me, but hey, why not?

I kept needling Rafa for guidance on what to expect and prepare for when it came to holding Christmas dinner, but he was terribly ambiguous about the whole thing. I shopped for several options for several different meals, but ended up hitting the store again on the eve and making a seafood paella.

The funniest part was watching my sous chef, Rafa, tackle the calamari. Not one for blood and guts, he bought the whole squid and watching him eviscerate the critter with that big eyeball staring at him, was hilarious. Even his sister had to beat a quick escape at the sight of squid innards. No picture could capture the whole event. None the less, he was a trooper, and the dinner was divine. My Spanish may still be a little wobbly, but cooking crosses language barriers. Nothing says love and appreciation more than a great cooked meal. And well, that is certainly something.


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4 thoughts on “Feliz Navidad

  1. Jeff Lore on said:

    I absolutely LOVE your blog. I’m a foodie……. an ex chef, and now a part time private chef living in Nuevo Arenal, working on demand when tourists renting my friend’s mountainside rent-a-palace decide they want chef services.
    I’ve found your tales interesting, informative, humerous, and your food tastes alot like mine………. so thanks!
    One thing I take issue with is green beer. Mi Mum’s maiden name was Eileen McDonnell, and I’m in tune with (among many other cultures) the Irish culture. No Irishman (or woman) would be caught dead drinking beer that has been dyed green. It´s a silly un-Irish tradition dreamed up by drunken non Irish students at Miami (of Ohio) University in the 50’s, and has grown in popularity amongst the non-Irish in the States.
    NO real Irish pub would ever even think of serving green beer any more than a real Jewish deli or Iranian restaurant would serve roast pork.

    • Hah! That’s funny. I posted that green beer picture because a friend lamented about not being able to find it here in CR. Granted, I would never touch it (only stout for me on St. Patrick’s, thankyouverymuch) but I like the fact that you can find some off the wall things here. For instance, I need to try the new Pho place in Santa Anna. If you find yourself in the Central Valley, drop a message and we can swap culinary tales over a pint. Thanks for reading! BTW…I got the crazy Scottish blood running through my viens.

      • Jeff Lore on said:

        It was just yesterday that I discovered your blog and, once again, thanks! It’s informative, entertaining, and humorous. You crazy Scots are masters of crafting fine whiskeys. The Scots learned the craft from the Irish. They then changed the process a tad by smoking the barley over peat. Then…….. Those Scotch-Irish emigrated to the colonies, moved as far west into the wilderness as they could, into and across the Appalachians, to create distance between themselves and their overbearing nemeses, the Brits, and resumed their whiskey making using the same basic processes…… the lasting results being Bourbon and Tennessee Whiskeys.
        You mentioned a pint and Guiness. I could go for a Black and Tan….. half Guiness and half Smithwick´s Irish ale. ¨A¨ black and tan? Nah! One´s hardly enough.

      • My bloodline came down the St Lawrence seaway looking for lumber and love.
        If you let me know ahead of time when you’ll be in the Valley, we could try and catch up with some of the local craft brewers. Some good stuff is happening here.

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