consumingcostarica

Cooking and eating through a new culture

Archive for the category “Experiences”

Lemongrass tea for me

The finca where we are living is perched atop a ridge line, that for the most part, has a 360 view.  At night, I maybe see a handful of lights in the distance and only on super still nights can I hear the far off rumble of a car. Nature rules here and I am only along for the ride. For the short time that I have been here, I am amazed at the weather. Technically the rainy season, but La Niña is having her way here and rain has been sporadic, but exciting. I have watched storms roll in from every direction whipping up winds and sheets of rain that permeate every corner of the house. Lightning pierces the night sky and shakes the whole earth in a spectacular fashion. Rarely a night goes by without some sort of light show. During these storms, the temperature will drop a delicious amount to a cooling mid 70’s, tempting me to look for long sleeves or curl beneath what little blanket I need. There are also times, like this morning, where it is so still that the only air movement is of the butterflies and birds that dart around the yard. This is the jungle at it peak. The steamy lusciousness of life where even the simplest tasks will produce rivulets of sweat.

As humid as it is here, you must keep hydrated. When I had on office job it was easy to keep a bottle of water at hand. Here, with all that is going on, after my morning coffee I forget to drink and I have paid the consequences with blistering headaches. The finca has a spring, but low water levels make me nervous, even with the extra filter. Living out here has its price, the biggest being the cost of food, so relying on juice and other bottled liquids can be costly (unless it is wine, then money is no object). So here is my solution: lemongrass tea.

With a field of lemongrass at my disposal, why not! Somewhere in the back of my mind, I remember reading how lemongrass has a cooling effect on the body and was used to fight fevers. Considering we have no AC, anything that cools you down I am in for. So while perusing recipes for tea, I was surprised to find all the other benefits of lemon grass. It’s also detoxifies the body by cleaning the liver, pancreas, kidneys, bladder, and urinary tract and reduces uric acid, cholesterol, and other toxins in the body (so I can keep drinking my wine with the sunset). Not only that, but you can use it as an astringent for your face to help tighten pores and reduce pimples.

Simple Quick Lemon Grass Tea Recipe

  1. Cut off the ends of two lemongrass stalks, use a sharp knife on a cutting board.
  2. Using the flat of the knife, compress the stalks so that the fibres inside are crushed.
  3. Cut the stalks in half and put them into a medium sized saucepan.
  4. Cover with a 2-3 cups of water and bring to boil.
  5. Simmer gently on a low heat for 10 – 15 minutes.
  6. Remove from heat and pout the mixture through a sieve of tea strainer into a cup or mug.
  7. Leave to cool for a few minutes and enjoy.

Crush the stems and add water to grandma’s old enamel pot

If you don’t have a field of lemongrass to harvest, it grows easily here in Costa Rica in any sunny spot or if you have a green thumb, try growing a clump as a potted plant. For all of you outside the tropics, most Asian food markets carry nice batches of fresh lemongrass.  I use about five good size pieces, cut down to four-inch sections for each pitcher of tea. Before I add it to the water I crush the ends to make sure all the goodness seeps out. Bring to a boil and then turn off the heat and let it sit to cool. At this time, I usually add a dollop of honey but if you want to be really creative add some sliced fresh ginger to the boil or mint leaves while the tea is cooling. Personally, I like having it chilled in the fridge but it is just as tasty hot right off the stove, should the temperatures where you live dip below shorts weather.

It’s a perfect drink to have on the porch to watch the jungle, unless the sun is going down. Then it’s wine time.

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Welcome to the wild side

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It’s been a while. Even now I am shocked to see the calendar in August. Two months I have been incommunicado. I am sorry. But I am back! And with so much to tell too. The biggest news being that CCR will no longer be located in the central valley because Rafa and I have moved  out of the concrete jungle to the real jungle. Yep. We just went through two months of craziness moving what little we have to the wilds of the Nicoya peninsula. Sure there are idyllic beaches minutes away, sunsets over the pool, heady perfumed ylang ylang tress, wildlife that literally falls into your lap (much to my surprise, mind you), but what really turns my engine is the fact that the property is bursting with food. Granted the slide show I have posted is only a sampling of what is around here and not a day goes by where I don’t see something else ripening before my eyes. It really is heavenly and could not get my hands dirty fast enough. I have a whole list of other things I want to plant: guanabana, granadilla, and mangosteens. The list goes on.

I have so much to share and really, what do you do with all this?

Sure, I will still be bombing around the country, finding new places to explore, new places to eat, but the base of operation is decidedly west coast. Oddly enough, the place is surprisingly civilized (a REAL French bakery? Who would have thought?) so there will definitely be some pretty interesting blogs. Stay tuned!

Festival Cerveza Artesanal!

Wow. No, really…wow. I know I have a tendency to be overly upbeat about things but it’s tough not to be optimistic here. At least for me. But when I heard about the Festival Cerveza Artesanal, I dare say I was worried. I wanted it so much to be good that I was even thinking about not posting about it if it was bad. Luckily, I didn’t have to worry about that. It was fucking great.

Not only was it great, it blew my expectations out of the water, especially since it’s the first EVER here in Costa Rica (maybe even in Central America). I have gone to my share of beer festivals and some have come to near riots when beer ran out midway through the event, so when Rafa and I finally got there, nearly four hours after it started, I was a tad panicked. People packed under a long sprawling tent lined with beer vendors, most of which I never heard of. I was vibrating with excitement.

The event was organized by Product C, seafood restaurants, and Costa Rica Craft Brewery. Both highly successful and perfection driven companies that broke into the new market of Costa Rica. Many of the brewers that participated were just fledgling businesses, with no distribution yet, and even others were only personal brewing enthusiasts. With a limited amount of tickets being sold, it made the whole event quite intimate. People where there for the love of good beer.

Ticket holders were given one of two booklets to rate the beers. The “VIP” tickets allowed access to the full selection of  beers, while the rest were only allowed to sample eight. Since the “VIP” tickets were already sold out, Rafa and I were relegated to the lower class. Based on past beer festival experience, I told Rafa not to offer the booklet unless asked. We pretty much weaseled our way into all we wanted to try. I guess it also helps to tell them you are going to give them free advertising too. What really surprised me the most was the variety of beer. Each vendor went out of their way to produce some unique and amazing brews. There were porters, stouts, reds, divine pale ales, and a delicate petite saison by fellow blogger and beer lover Thristy Pilgrim. I was blown away. There was a cacao stout on the VIP list who initially refused my request, but I got it anyway in the end (nah, nah) and malpais pale ale  by La Perra Hermosa, that was out of this world. Look for Treintaycinco to break into the market on creativity and sheer enthusiasm alone, not to mention they swept up many of the awards in the festival.

Treintaycinco gang

Volcano Brewery looks to be the next big craft beer on the market and will be giving CRCB a run for their money. Competition is good. It keeps quality up. I could go on and on about these brewers but I am going to let you in on a little secret. I plan on trekking to and posting about each one. What better way to get the word out there?!

In the meantime fellow Costa Ricans and parched expats, should you have the initiative to try brewing your own batch be sure to look into La Bodega de Chema for all your beer brewing needs. I can think of no better way to learn Spanish than taking a class on how to brew beer. I feel truly sad for those of you who missed this opportunity BUT fret not! All it takes is for you to demand good beer and well, look for it. If you drink it, they will brew it. Check out the links I have posted and make connections. Life is too short to drink crappy beer, especially in paradise. Stay thirsty my friends.

Product C calamari to die for!

The Panama Parallel

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Yea we’re runnin’ a little bit hot tonight I can barely see the road from the heat comin’ off of it.

Sorry. Still got the song in my head. Seriously, how can you not be happy in Panama. Granted, when the friends you are staying with have a palatial home overlooking the valley, not to mention a sweet little private rental on the ocean too, its tough to wipe the dopey smile off my face. I had an amazing time, with amazing people. It’s not often that things work out so beautifully, and you have no idea how thankful I am they did.

Certainly, the whole trip got me thinking. I am seriously smitten with Panama but it was funny to observe the differences between the two countries. Now, I never got to go into Panama City. I bounced between the highlands and the ocean, so this is not a comprehensive view. So keep that in mind. I’m still getting my bearings in Costa Rica and it’s been over a year and a half.

The first thing that really struck me was how puny the local farmers market was as compared to Costa Rica. Not only small, but not necessarily that fresh either. On the rare occasion I saw brocoli, it was brown and limp. Even the fruit was off, or should I say, not to Costa Rican standards. I was baffled. Here I was in the middle of this amazing tropical valley, and the mangos looked nasty and a guanábana cost over $5!  Go into a local grocery and you will see endless amounts of canned food from every corner of the world and a teeny space for fresh produce. I needed an explanation and this was the consensus:

Because of the canal, Panama can import food cheaper than it is to grow and because they can import anything, what you get is an enormous amount of shelf stable food. Add to that, Panamanians don’t seem to eat fresh vegetables either. It’s a very starch based diet; yucca, potatoes, yams, cassava, some pasta and tons of rice. Even the ubiquitous red peppers (chili dulce) were absent in Panama. The protein is chicken/eggs, or fish. I saw little beef and next to no pork.  My recommendation to the traveler coming to Panama, go for the fish. They may not grow a lot but they certainly know how to fish and I had some amazing seafood. Also surprising, I thought the street food was rather…meh. Think lots of rather bland starch and canned meat.

Overall, Costa Rica has a wider diet, better fresh selection, and many more options for those who are conscientious eaters. People raved about Panama being cheaper, but in the long run (and because I don’t really eat a lot of shelf stable food) I found prices to be about equal, if not more for certain fresh products. While doing a grocery run with my hosts, I commented on how cheap booze was. It’s nearly half the price it is in Costa Rica with double the selection. I saw a bottle of excellent Scotch $20 cheaper than in the US! As explained by my friends…that is why people are so happy in Panama. The US influence in Panama is evident everywhere, especially in the developement of infrastructure. Panama just looks nicer. Then again, I am hanging out with great people, drinking good booze, swimming in the ocean, trekking through the jungles, having an amazing time…what’s not to love!

As I set back to Costa Rica, the rainy season started. The trip back was uneventful. I wore the Panama hat I bought for Rafa’s birthday as I bobbed around the bus station looking for him over the groggy throngs and eager taxi drivers. I am so happy when I see him I nearly cry.

“I didn’t see you get off the bus,” he says squeezing me,  “but I saw this Panama hat weaving through the crowd and I knew that was my girl.”

It’s good to be home.

PANAMA!

Insert Van Halen riff

(dramatic pause while you rock out)

Yes. I traveled back to Panama. While I still love Bocas del Toro, this was my first trek to the Pacific side. And my first adventure without Rafa. Now, I write a lot about my travels and well…that’s what you need to do to consume a country (or multiple countries as this may be). So here you go: the Costa Rica, Panama parallel.

Rafa drops me off at the Tica bus station an hour before midnight to catch the red-eye to Panama. He lingers with me and reviews the litany of information he has given me should disaster strike. I stay quite, knowing I am fully capable of whatever craziness comes my way, but also touched at his tender concern. Still, bus travel is rather new to me. Add on that my shitty Spanish, well you never know.

The bus is big. I settle into my hard-fought after window seat and send a final wave to Rafa outside. Strangely enough a Brit plops down next to me and immediately asks to give up my seat for his girlfriend across the aisle. Um, no. He shrugs it off and continues to chat incessantly away. I thought Brits were more reserved. You know, that whole stoic persona. Nope, not this one. I was rather excited about my trip so he viewed my perkiness as an invitation. Apparently, he took a great exception to his “around the world vacation”, at least his part in Latin America, and was more than happy to prattle on about all the ills he suffered, much to the chagrin of other passengers who wanted to sleep away the ride. To tell you the truth, I think his girlfriend was quite pleased to be seated next to a snoring Tico.  It was a long sleepless ride.

For those of you who have never crossed a Latin American land border, my level of writing could never fully encapsulate the experience. Airports are bright, mostly air-conditioned, and contained in a neat package. Land borders have an aire about them similar to the Twilight Zone, “a mixture of self-contained drama, psychological thriller, fantasy, science fiction, suspense, or horror, often concluding with a macabre or unexpected twist”. It’s one of those life experiences that everyone should go through. The Brit was getting it first hand. Sure you may want to fly out of Panama City to Australia, but not having that proof of departure can make for a surreal experience. And why, oh why, must people believe that talking louder makes understanding a foreign language any easier? Being next in line, I smiled and handed over my passport. They stamped it and handed it back over without ever asking me a single question. Que the Twilight Zone music.

The next challenge for me was getting dropped off where I needed to go and not making the whole trip to Panama City. With the shrill voice of the Brit bouncing around the station, I saddled up next to the bus driver and as sweetly as I could muster in my broken Spanish asked him to drop me at km 97. With no luggage in the hold, it would be an easy stop and I batted my lashes for all they were worth. With the issue of the Brit being settled, and people eager to get moving, the driver softened like a puppy.

I found the Pacific side of Panama to be oddly beautiful. It was an endless landscape of dry rolling hills getting larger and larger until they met the spine of mountains in the center of the country. It was cattle land but I saw little livestock and even less agriculture. Go anywhere in Costa Rica and food production is packed into every available space. It’s not uncommon to find coffee growing in empty lots in the middle of San Jose. I tried to pick out produce stands but saw few in the four hours before my stop. The roads were butter smooth and there was very little trash around, even cleaner than Costa Rica. Another thing I found interesting, the cops. They are everywhere! They even stopped the bus…twice! It wasn’t even a shaken down. Just a passport check. And they LOOK like cops. In San Jose it’s easy to mistake a cop. For the most part, they look pretty goofy. They are almost always texting or chatting on their phones, looking disinterested. The female cops always make an effort to glam up their uniforms with dayglow make-up and flashy jewelry. I’m not kidding. I live practically next door to a police station. Never, have I once seen them ever do anything. Even when things are going blatantly wrong around them. But the Panama po-po is paramilitary. Let me ask you: Who would you take more seriously? The cop with neon blue eyeshadow and door knocker earrings, or the fatigue wearing, automatic weapon welding guy who probably had relatives in the School of the Americas?

By the time km 97 came up, I had endeared myself with the driver and was given many flirtatious glances. After a handful of seats freed up after the border, I had been blissfully Brit free for the rest of my journey into Panama (I also got the distinct impression he was a little miffed at me for “abandoning” him at the border…Sheesh, men can be difficult about things).  When I got off the bus the air was like a hot slap to the face. The driver registered my concern and asked if I was going to be alright. I recomposed myself and flashed a grin. “Of course!” I’m in the middle of no where with a backpack and a phone number of my destination and a limited grasp of the native language. Don’t they realize you can conquer the world with cleavage and smile?

Getting yer Irish on

Green beer at Stan's!

Saint Patrick’s Day has always been a favorite of mine. More so than any of the “big” holidays. Not only is it a time for copious amount of beer and sweet reverie, but as fortune would have it, it is also the day a Latino leprechaun stole my heart. I had never been a big believer in luck or fate, but that day certainly marked a huge and wonderful turning point in my life. I still consider myself very lucky, even with all the crazy challenges here. So crank up some Flogging Molly or Pouges and get yourself ready for a wee bit o’ fun.

Stan’s Irish Pub

Last year, Rafa and I inadvertently stumbled into Stan’s with the thought of a quick beer and an early night. Oh, how wrong we were. It was a banner night and it led to many wonderful discoveries, which I posted last year here. I like Stan’s and I like Stan. He is a great guy and he runs a good business. Besides, this is my hood now and even though I have mellowed these past years, I like having a neighborhood bar.  If you find yourself on the Eastside of the valley, Stan’s is the place. I know there are other places around that may be hipper or newer, but no one will have a world-class bagpipper gracing their establishment making me weep and want to go into battle at the same time.

Time Out Tavern

I have recently given them snaps here. But what I had failed to include (because I finally diverted from my hamburgers and wings) was their awesome reuben sandwich. I don’t know what it is about March and my sudden craving for fermented cabbage, but it happens every year. Sauerkraut is an acquired taste and it is certainly not on the in Tico diet, but I love it, and strangely enough, so does Rafa.  Not only that, this sandwich is huge! Big ol’ pile of corn beef and kraut! It may not have been on the dark rye bread I am use to, but it was still damn good!

Granted, there are other places around Costa Rica but these are my suggestions. Besides, I’m not going to endorse a place I have not been to. I will get to them and vet them carefully. I do have standards, you know!  Rest assured, both offer good food and have Costa Rica Craft Beer on tap too (a MUST). The best part is that CRCB has brewed a batch of stout specially for St. Patrick’s Day. Guinness is certainly a go-to but do yourself a favor and down a pint of CRCB stout. It’s divine. I have been lucky to see and visit parts of this country that maybe are not necessarily on the radar of the typical tourist/expat. At least in my research, there has been nothing that touched on what I wanted to know. Maybe this little blog, with its tidbits about Costa Rica, will help you get lucky too. I can only hope.   

May your days be many and your troubles be few. May all God’s blessings descend upon you. May peace be within you may your heart be strong. May you find what you’re seeking wherever you roam.

Trying NOT to be consumed

I had to post this. Just a small change of pace from eating to being eaten. Anyone, and I do mean ANYONE who has lived here has suffered at the ferociousness of the mosquito. I spent my first few months here dappled with bites. Live here long enough and you do develop a bit of a tolerance, but who hasn’t been woken up with the WEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE of those little fuckers in your ear, or dancing on your face. Turn on the light and poof, like that. They’re gone (said in my best Kevin Spacey voice). I have waged midnight wars, flailing around, slapping myself silly. Begged for screens. Put up mosquito netting. Used bug spray like perfume. All to no avail.

Not a fan of chemicals, I have steered clear of DEET. DEET (N,N-Diethyl-3-methylbenzamide),can cause potential neurotoxicity to humans, especially when DEET-based repellents are used in combination with other neurotoxic insecticides. The EPA concluded  that, as long as consumers follow label directions and take proper precautions, insect repellents containing DEET do not present a health concern. Unfortunately, you never really know what you are getting here, so I have just been airing on the side of caution. I have seen many places mix and sell their own natural concoctions and I have found them to be quite effective. My problem is the application, or should I say the routine application. It’s not uncommon to find me sunburned and bug bitten.

So far, I haven’t suffered from any ill effects, but this is the tropics and dengue, malaria, and yellow fever are certainly flying around here. Not necessarily in the Central Valley, but the coastal areas and all the crazy places tourists like to think they are exploring. Outbreaks of dengue fever have been reported annually from Costa Rica since 1993 and there was over 5000 case in 2011. Malaria, not so much. 2006 was the last outbreak and it was right where our cabinas are in the Caribbean. But lets face it, there will always be something chewing on you on a regular basis.

There are a myriad of products out there ranging from simple to extreme, but as a hardcore DIY kinda girl, I was giddy to find this article. As you read this, I will be putting these together and placing them strategically around. I am hoping in combination with making sure there is no standing water, blocked gutters, or anywhere else those little blood suckers like to breed, I will get some peaceful nights. Also, wordpress has added a global map on my statistics page and I have readers in Africa! How cool is that! So I hope this helps all of you too.

http://www.thriftyfun.com/tf22399231.tip.html

La Feria Orgánica Buena Tierra Escazú

On Wednesdays, beginning at 8am, there is an organic market in Escazú.  Again, it was something I had heard about but had never gotten to. Type in “organic market Costa Rica” into Google and  La  Feria Orgánica Buena Tierra  is one of the first things to pop up. Since I have been all curious about this organic market trend, I talked Rafa into going with me before he had to be at work. Risking life (it was a restricted day for our car) and limb (I only had one cuppa coffee) we ventured out to see what this place had to offer. Passing the place three times, we finally realized this was it:

I hear crickets.

“That’s it?!” Rafa questions. I look at my watch and it says 9am, on the nose. Granted, the blog post stated to get there early, but we had already stocked up on the weekend so this was just an exploratory trip. Good thing. It was pretty desolate. Do the expat hordes descend at 8am on the dot and wipe the place out like locusts? Or is it a market for agoraphobes?

“Nope. It’s always like this” Sitting out, ostracized from the rest of what little there is, were my favorite cheese people from Queso Artesanal (aka the “Got Goat” cheese makers). We stayed and chatted with them. It seems they are trying to break into the market and they have been there on Wednesdays for some time. We urged them to look elsewhere. Their products are too divine to be only sold at a few tiny places. I found it ironic that people probably breezed past the best cheese in Costa Rica only to snap up a few heads of organic lettuce. Where are your priorities people?! We bought the camembert: because it’s awesome.

Next we came across a seafood seller: Balza Verde. He had a decent assortment of fresh and frozen products, including shrimp, calamari, and various fish. There was also a mix bag with shrimp, shellfish, calamari and Surimi (not a fan of that stuff). If you really need your fish fix, they will deliver to your home…but only if you live in Escazú or surrounding areas. We bought some frozen grouper to try. We’ll see.

Slim pick'ins

Desiccated desirables

Tasty nut butters and chocolate

A small covered structure at the back of the lot held the remains of what little fresh produce was left and a handful of prepared products. There were some preserves, beauty products, honey, and a sweet lady, from Good for you Foods, selling a wonderful assortment of dried fruits. I am definitely keeping her in mind for our next 10k hike. Nothing like making your own gorp! She also makes, of all things, homemade Korean Kimchi. I wanted to mention that since it has been the first time I have seen it here in Costa Rica. It’s not a favorite of mine, but those of you who love it, eat it with wild abandon. Just have a breath mint afterwards please.

I bought Rafa some homemade peanut butter with almonds and honey from Tierra Gourmet. I had seen her before in other venues and I like her spunk and drive…and she makes a damn fine good product. Try the cashew butter for a change of pace or some of her delectable chocolates.

But what was really worth the time and effort was this:

Trout!

Cured trout! OMG! The stuff is fish crack! I wanted to mainline it. It was so amazingly good. Bruno has a tiny operation out of his house where he cures and smokes fresh trout from the mountains in Los Santos region, and the Escazú market is the only place he sells it. See! I knew trout was around here somewhere.  But we had blown through what little money we had thinking we were not going to get much. Bruno, bless his heart, was going to give us some on credit. Not credit card. The real credit. We couldn’t do that and ended up just running to the closest ATM. When I dashed back with the colones in my hot little hands, Bruno cuts the last slab of trout off its skin, passes it to me and says “Get a bottle of Pinot Grigio with this and you will be happy.” Oh, I like him so much. If you can’t make it to the Wednesday market, he sells out of his house at maurach@ice.co.cr

People rave about this place and I see it mentioned all over the internet. What I found interesting was the complete absence of any mention of Feria Verde on the sites listing organic farmers markets. Why is that? Is there some Eastside/Westside organic turf war? Or is it that Escazú is its own little enclave and doesn’t recognize anything outside its borders that isn’t Atenas or Guanacaste? When we are in the area and tell people where we live, we almost always get puzzled looks. At first, I thought it was my pronunciation, but no. San Pedro/Zapote just does not register. It’s great that there are options for people who live in the central valley to have access to organic food. That’s not my point. I mean, if I am showing up an hour after it opens and it is picked clean of produce, why bother going? Why entice people to show up? And there wasn’t even coffee let alone any breakfast treats. The La Feria Orgánica Buena Tierra blog site states ” There is currently a selection of more than 70 fruits and vegetables.” I would have been surprised if there was a total of 70 individual pieces of produce!  At least at Feria Verde, there were ample products and if all else fails, there’s a number of places to plop down and nosh on some fantastic food. And it was bustling with people! If you ask me, a market needs that. Afterall, it is supposed to be a social community meeting place, for the benefit of the consumer and the producer.

Maybe we caught them on a bad day? Maybe it’s geared more towards the local regulars who fly in right at 8am? What I think, is that Escazú would benefit more from a farm share operation instead of a straight up market, especially on a Wednesday. People could just pick up and go and not expect the atmosphere of a market. If you ask me, a farm share would be the next step in the evolution of the locavore/organic trend here and if it happens, I would be first in line.

Feria Verde

I need to pay better attention. Really. I’ve been here for over a year now and I should know these things. Check that. I did know about them, but I was leery. An organic market? Hmmm. Was this just to cater to the granola cruncher crowd? High priced produce, but no regulations on its authenticity? I had concerns. I was skeptical. I was about to be educated.

Begin with the Feria del Gustico Costarricense, and go from there. You have no idea how excited I was at seeing all those amazing vendors growing, producing and selling all these incredible products. I was seriously overwhelmed and chirped at Rafa incessantly about what I wanted to write. He, being my muse, gave me the best way to do it; by interviewing each one and where better than to start than at Feria Verde, the organic market I was so suspicious of to begin with.

Feria Verde de Aranjuez began about four years ago and formed the group la Asociación Amantes de lo Orgánico -AAMOR, “to create spaces that house various proposals for sustainable living such as organic farming, fair trade, sports and artistic activities, the rescue of traditions, organic food, and various alternative and holistic practices among others”.   The market is only on Saturdays and runs from 7am to 1pm. Sometimes our Saturdays can be rather questionable, or should I say dictated by the activities from the night before, but we did manage to rise at a decent hour and make our way to the market. Set around the edge of a soccer field at the bottom of a little creek valley, past the roller derby girls (yes, you read correctly) is a portable village of bamboo tents and the most delicious array of goodies any self-respecting food snob locavore could desire. And the first thing I see:

Orgasmic strawberries!

Yes. It was a good day. Priced at 500 colones (or about a buck a pint), I was more than happy to sample a few while I drilled the farmer on his practices. I refused to buy strawberries in the other markets only because I know how many chemicals are required to get them so big and luscious. Granted, I always felt there is no way to know for sure here, but according to the Feria Verde charter “Producers and industrial processors and business must ensure that your product really is organic either have certified their production units by internationally recognized certification or because it has the support of a Participatory Guarantee System.” Reading that really put my mind at ease and made me realize how passionate people are about bringing safe sustainable food to everyday Costa Ricans. Strawberries are heavy feeders, meaning they like lots of fertilizers, and are one of the “Dirty Dozen” fresh foods that contain pesticides. It’s a good list to keep in mind if you are concerned about what you eat.

The second thing that made me all squirmmy with happiness was this (also on the “Dirty Dozen” list):

Kale!

This was the first time I have seen this kale in the market place. Tuscan kale (Brassica oleracea) (also known as lacinato kale, dinosaur kale and palm tree kale) is my all time favorite to cook with and is superb in soups. Even diehard veggie haters have gobbled down my kale in soups and sautés . Tuscan kale, like all kales, is extraordinarily nutritious: a cup provides more than 100 percent of the daily value (DV) of vitamins K and A, and 88 percent of the DV for vitamin C. It is also a rich source of organosulfur compounds that have been linked to cancer prevention. Another market place oddity I saw was fennel bulb. I don’t normally use fennel but it is an integral part of the recipe I have for my homemade bouillon (recipe in the “Rice, Rice, Baby” blog).  The only place I found it was Auto Mercado and I froze it for later use. It’s good to know I have a fresh fix now.

A few of the products I found missing from the expo but discovered at Feria Verde which are on my future shopping list include: fresh pasta (my next weekend purchase), coconut oil, fresh spices like vanilla, cinnamon, and pepper, some outstanding chocolate, and fresh made Kombucha. Now, I never like kombucha. Some people swear by its detoxifying properties and medicinal healing claims, but I am skeptical. The stuff I had back stateside was rather vile, but the fresh brewed kombucha here was, dare I say, quite tasty. So, if like me, you had a bad experience with this stuff, snag a glass. You won’t be disappointed.

Spicy!

Costa Rican chocolate to die for.

The fresh pasta lady.

The dry pasta man.

This little blog certainly does not cover all that is Feria Verde. There seems to be a lot going on from book swaps to yoga to events for kids, so I recommend checking out their site to see what is coming up. Also, I highly suggest going on an empty stomach. I didn’t even get to mention all the vendors selling prepared food and drinks. Needless to say, there was a lot for me to consume and I am just going to have to come back for more.

https://www.facebook.com/FeriaVerde

Feria del Gustico Costarricense…I want this! I must have this! Where do I get this?!

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It’s easy to miss things here. Advertising just doesn’t have that gringo aggressiveness I am use to. So imagine my surprise when Rafa returns from a morning run and tells me about the Feria del Gustico Costarricense, at the old customs building, La Antigua Aduana. Basically, this was a Costa Rican small farm expo. I was so excited about this, I eagerly changed our plans from a quiet picnic in the mountains to spending a day jostling for free samples and checking all about what I didn’t know about Costa Rican agriculture. Needless to say, it’s a lot. Let me summarize some of the highlights.

The venue held just about a hundred stands representing different agricultural businesses from all over Costa Rica. From tiny family run operations to big plantations, each one was unique and wonderful. Costa Rica is getting all locavore! I love it!

The three biggest commodities represented were coffee (well, duh), dairy, and chocolate. This is what I found to be the most interesting about coffee, although Rafa has said this to me before: the best coffee is exported and the crappy stuff stays in country. Now, crappy coffee here is still hands down better than anything I have had stateside, but when you are able to sample the brews of literally dozens of farms, you would be astounded at the differences. Each kiosk offered such unique flavors and complexities, my limited taste buds couldn’t keep up. That’s why I have those three sentences in my title, because I could not stop repeating them over and over. The stores just don’t offer this!

Next came the chocolate. Chocolate does not seem to be a local favorite. Or maybe it’s like the coffee, and just not offered, because I had to beat back some persistent old ladies to snag my samples. Costa Rican chocolate is mainly sold to gringos. Any of the shops that sell it, are geared towards the tourist crowds, which is a shame since it is outstanding chocolate. I should know. I worked in three different gourmet chocolate factories when I was in college, so I have sampled my fair share. Do yourself a favor and hunt some of these places down. You just have to hunt hard. Many do not have websites, but you will not be disappointed.

Last, but not least, dairy. Oh, lovely bovine bliss. How I covet thee. Yes, I have talked about the diary here before, but they are certainly doing a lot more than I had given them credit for. Artisan cheese is breaking into the market here and it’s about time! It’s baby steps, but at least they are trying. My goat cheese lady, from the blog “Got Goat”, was there too offering a  Camembert that had a beautiful subtle flavour and texture despite her protests that it did not fully ripen. But what really made me squeal with delight was the buffalo cheese ricotta. When I sampled it, I literally had a ricotta acid trip and flashed back to all the wonderful Italian meals I had consumed over my lifetime. It was that good.

Okay. Those were the big ones but what really got my heart racing was the unexpected: Quail eggs and meat, pickles and preserves, specifically Jaleas & Mermeladas with their fig jam and limited edition sweet goat milk caramel. I bought Rafa the 100% organic strawberry jam and the owner, Fiorella Medrano, assured me of its authenticity. I love people who are passionate about their products. Makes me want to start asking for jobs! There was also grape seed oil, spirulina, dried fruit (to eat, and believe it or not, to wear!), beauty products (soaps and lotions), AND (I saved the best for last) MUSHROOMS!! Yes! It’s true! Fresh, fantastic fungi. But wait! BioFungiCR offers classes TO GROW YOUR OWN! WhoooHooo! I was so excited when I saw them, I nearly began to weep. I will be the over eager gringa in the next class with the Spanish/English dictionary sticking out of her back pocket.

It was wonderful to see so much but I know there is more out there. This is my wish list of what I thought was missing: organic meat and sausage, avocado oil, quinoa, coconut oil, fresh pasta, and farm raised fish. I have been hearing rumblings of trout being farmed up in the mountains, but I have yet to get my hands on some of this. Avocado and coconut oil are hot commodities now, both in cooking and for beauty products. I bought some coconut oil while I was in the Caribbean for my curly hair and it is divine. Far better than any product I could purchase at Sephora. And why no quinoa? It’s the South American super food and I cannot find it anywhere.

I am sorry to say I don’t have a good representation of all that was offered and some places just didn’t have any contact information either. I tried scratching up a list from the show itself, but I could not locate it. My only hope is that this keeps happening on a regular basis, and more and more people are exposed to what Costa Rica has to offer. We only heard of the expo on Sunday and it was heartbreaking to learn it had gone on for three days and had free classes too. It’s tough keeping your eyes peeled to all that is going on in this tiny country! Below are the places that I could not get enough of.

A good place to start looking for these items: https://www.facebook.com/FeriaVerde

CHEESE: Muva https://www.facebook.com/FeriaVerde#!/pages/Muva-Lacteos/235365813215770

Queso Artesanal (of “Got Goat” fame) tel: 8910-2808 or franyligia@hotmail.com

Italacteos Mind blowing mozzarella and Ricotta: http://italacteos.com/ (but it is under construction. Hurry, damn you!) tel: 2470-3000

COFFEE: Cafe San Vito (they had the Italian and Japanese exports) http://www.cafesanvito.com/

Aprocetu tel: 8970-2017

Cafe Forestral http://coocafe.com/cafeforestal/index.html

CHOCOLATE: Sibu http://www.sibuchocolate.com/

Association of Amazilla Women of the Caribbean , a group of rural women from Pueblo Nuevo de Guacimo dedicated to the production of organic chocolate.

Association of Indigenous Bribrí Women of Talamanca.—ACOMUITA Chocolate Production

Preserves: Jaleas & Mermeladas J & M tel: 2297-7864  jaleasymermeladas@yahoo.com

Quail: Montesland tel: 2446-6404

Bread: Konig https://www.facebook.com/pages/Pan-Konig/108208465879499

MUSHROOMS! BioFungiCR http://biofungicr.com/  http://biofungicr.blogspot.com/

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