consumingcostarica

Cooking and eating through a new culture

Time Out Tavern…A gringo’s guilty pleasure.

I love food. That should not come as a shock, but I love all food and as conscious as I am about what I eat, I do have a soft spot for comfort food, like a big o’ piece of meat and a beer! A woman cannot live on bean sprouts and green tea alone, especially this woman. So when the mood strikes, Rafa and I will head to the Time Out Tavern to drink good beer, watch sports, and nosh on some exceptional bar food. Now, I will be the first to admit. I was rather reluctant to check this place out. I just never thought they would be able to capture what it is, at least for me, to be a honest-to-God real American, hometown bar but it is a skill the proprietors have. That’s because the Grahams are from upstate New York and no one quite does a tavern than a drinking area with a sports problem (that’s for you, Nickel City).

The Time Out has a large horseshoe bar usually lined with the assortment of people you would expect…or maybe not. Don’t be surprised to find people representing every corner of the globe and with the added social lubrication of alcohol, be warmly invited into conversation. And that’s what sealed the deal for me. Bars from my hometown were not meant to be places to hunker down and hide. You went there to escape the cold, but expecting people you know, or know you through someone else. There was, at the most, maybe three degrees of separation from anyone within a 100 miles of where I grew up. Here you’re not recognized from high school, but as a fellow outlier and that’s pretty comforting. Regardless of the circumstance that brought you to Costa Rica, and keeps you in Costa Rica, it’s good to get back to your roots and commiserate with your fellow expats.

The bar is lined with not only choice sports paraphernalia, but 13 TVs tuned to every sport imaginable. For us, it was our guilty pleasure of watching the live UFC fight over a pint or two. For some time now, Rafa and I would find ourself snuggling on the couch gleefully watching men beat the living shit out of each other. It may have stemmed from the fact there is nothing on Costa Rican cable (and not enough pirate taxi drivers), but we are now avid followers of the UFC. Other treks to the Time Out have included getting my hockey fix, especially now since the playoffs are gearing up, and trying to find some sort of redemption in my hometown football team…which lasted about 3 games, *sigh*. There is not a doubt in my mind that they would tune to any sport on one of the numerous TVs, if asked politely. The World Junior Curling Championship is going on now if you are so inclined to sit down to a brew and watch the excitement.

If sports are just too stimulating for you, the Time Out also has a book exchange. Sometimes finding a good English read can be challenging here and it is a great service they offer. Easy to see them lined along the wall as you walk in, or as you peruse the specials board, you may be pleasantly surprised at what you find. For us it was, The God Forsaken Sea. I have passed along a few of my own too. No Dan Brown or Stephanie Meyer, please. Have some decency people.

This most recent time around we just stayed with a pitcher of the new IPA by Costa Rica Craft Brewery. CRCB never disappoints and their IPA is no exception. But if you should need to soak up some of that fine brew, rest assured the menu is sure to please. Daily specials are listed when you walk in and it will be full of any number of local hometown favorites. Pizza seems to be a very popular option too, although I just haven’t been able to go beyond the usual burger or chicken wings. They also offer blue cheese with their wings, which may seem like a no-brainer, but can be a challenging find here. If you are going to watch your favorite team (getting their asses handed to them, like mine), beer and burgers are the way to go. Then again, nothing says UFC than chewing the meat off the bones of something smaller and tastier.

300 Meters South of the Costa Rica Country Club, 1250 Escazú, Costa Rica

https://www.facebook.com/timeouttavern?ref=pb

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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/

Pork, Platanos, and Peace of Mind

Everyone has moments in their life when things have gotten a tad stressful. Be it as it may, I was finding myself in just one of those moments and it is usually at times like these, one may emotionally digress…aka, freak the shit out. I must confess, I did. Now, hindsight is always 20/20 and reflecting back on things, I was a bit of a drama queen. Just a bit. But it is what you DO with these situations that A. Repeats losing ones shit on a regular basis. Or B. Reflects, analyzes, grows and moves on. Needless to say, I fucking hate drama.

Rafa, even though I have yet to get him on a horse, was my knight on dusty flip-flops and armed with some extra cash, a fine bottle of sparkling wine, and a clear lovely day, we certainly set things right.

Start with one seriously awesome chicharrón  place in Paraiso, Piso de Tierra; old school dirt floors with pictures of the family from times gone by. I wish I could give you directions to the place, but alas, Costa Rica has yet to invest in street signage. I suggest just stopping a person on the street. The place is loved by the locals.

The Ritz....we got take out.

The destination: open skies, and breath-taking views of Orosi. Nothing facilitates good digestion and calms frazzled nerves like fresh air and sunshine…well, mimosas too. The Orosi valley is only a short 37 mile drive from San Jose and offers some of the best views on the planet. Dubbed as the most picturesque valley in Costa Rica, it is one of my favorite places to tool around. The hillsides are covered in coffee and dotted with hot springs. If you travel south along the river you will end up in Parque Nacional Tapantí Macizo Cerro de la Muerte, which covers about 600 km² and forms the northernmost section of a massive collection of nature parks that extends into Panama. Awhile back, Rafa and I did a trek into Tapantí and it was stunning.

The view.

The meal: Chicharrón , platanos, frijoles (purred black beans), and escabeche (pickled vegetables). A word about the chicharrón; in a nutshell, it is seasoned deep-fried pork. Some may think of those nasty fried pieces of pig skin but here, they are chunks of pork, usually from the leg, with only minimal amounts of fat or skin drizzled with fresh squeezed lime.  They are tender, salty, savory chunks of piggy bliss. For us, there needs to be a low-fat, high meat ratio for us to return. Add to that some awesome platanos with smooth flavorful frijoles. Plantanos, if you remember, are sections of sweet plantains flattened and fried and are usually treated like a cracker, and in this case, topped with slow cooked, smashed black beans. Finger food at its finest! Of the course, the final finishing touch: a delightful mimosa to settle the stomach and lift spirits.

The meal.

I gotta give snaps to this guy. I won’t brag…too much. There are moments in one’s life that will stand out in the end. Moments of such sweet divine bliss that you will relive each second over and over. It could be a wedding, the birth of a child, or a Sunday afternoon over looking a beautiful valley sharing food with the only person who can make everything right in the world.

The Man.

Gringa Gallos

First off, let me say that in Costa Rica, gallos (when referring to a meal) means meat, beans and or cheese in a small tortilla. Usually,  a light snack, sometimes seen on local menus as an appetizer. Gallo is also a rooster. The following post is about the meal. Not some kinky white, feathered transvestite. Not to say they’re not strutting around downtown San Jose. There is some weird shit happening in the wee hours here, but I am trying to keep this site civil, so get yer mind outta the gutter.

For me, gallos are an ideal meal. I’ve never been a big meal person, but prefer to nibble here and there. Although, gallos can be deceptive. If hungry, I can easily down 4 or 5 which basically is…a big meal. But for the most part, a couple fits the bill just fine. You won’t find hard taco shells here, but there are a variety of tortillas. Not to be confused with burritos, gallos are small, with the tortillas only about six inches across. Just big enough for one hand.

Returning to my Meatless Monday kick, and my odd obsession for beans lately, I’ve stumbled across a wonderful recipe for lentil tacos, which I adapted into what has now become known here as Gringa Gallos. http://allrecipes.com/recipe/tasty-lentil-tacos/

A word about lentils: listed as one of the world’s healthiest foods, they can be cooked on the fly since they don’t require soaking like other legumes. Lentils lack only 2 essential amino acids in order to complete the 20 amino acids that we need in our body, but if you mix them with rice you will have a complete protein meal. Lentils, being a rich source of dietary fiber, are beneficial for lowering cholesterol. This fiber content also prevents the sudden hike in blood sugar levels after a meal.  Lentils contains significant amounts of folate and magnesium to keep your ticker in tip-top shape and flavonoids, which is great for preventing cancer, especially breast cancer. Not bad for something that has been around since Neolithic times.

Cast iron cooking lentils!

I had seen other recipes that just added taco seasoning to cooked lentils. I guess if you were pinched for time, it’s an easy way out, but I prefer to tinker with my spice load and create my own blend. I found the addition of cumin to the lentils and a splash of Worcester sauce transforms the nuttiness to almost meat like dimensions. With an added dose of cheese, I can’t tell the difference. I dress them with slices of avocado, fresh salsa too for a perfect Latino meal…gringa style.

Now Rafa and I are certainly good hedonists. We love the decadence of  a good life, but that is tempered with our concern to stay and be healthy for the rest of our lives. Sure we indulge, but everything in moderation. My rant: Paula Deen is an hypocritical twat. Now, I am not normally invested in the idiots I see on TV. In fact, I hardly watch anything, but on occasion I will peruse the cooking shows for shits and giggles. I have seen her shows…and I found her incredibly annoying and her recipes absolute crap. Usually, it would have just ended there. But with her announcement of her three-year old diagnosis for type 2 diabetes and her subsequent signing with Novo Nordisk for a multi-million dollar endorsement of their new diabetes drug, I call bullshit. Americans consume about 150 pounds a sugar a year and if you want to eat that, fine. It’s a free world. Be fat, and if that makes you happy, who am I to say? But I can’t really think of any other person who will be awarded a lifetime of medication to control a disease they were to ignorant to ward off with their own self-control. The fact that she hid her disease and continued to promote a unhealthly lifestyle, with no concern and “No regrets”, is selfish and disingenuous. There is not a doubt in my mind that if Big Pharma didn’t dangled that golden doughnut in front of her, her diagnosis would still be kept secret. Was that being civil?

Team Bourdain! All the way!

Hey Chickie

Beans are a staple of the Latin American diet and nary a day goes by where I don’t consume some sort of legume. Sure there is the ubiquitous black and red beans found in the majority of dishes, but so much more is out there. Recently, I have found myself pulling away from the more traditional local recipes and spicing things up a bit. Surprisingly, I have been leaning a bit Indian (dot, not feather).

While working on the whole Meatless Monday idea, and reviewing a fridge bursting from the Sunday market, I decided on a vegetable masala. I think I have mentioned before that I am not a huge Indian food fan (I have always dreaded reeking of curry) but there were elements of the diet I did like, especially the significant use of vegetables and exotic complex spices. Both Rafa and I have amped up our excersie routine and we’re trying to stay away from heavy meat meals, especially at night. I don’t know, maybe it’s the tropical environment too, but I just have had a hankering for something spicy.

Now there are countless recipes out there and I am sure many people might sneer at my short cuts and adaptions to this traditional dish, but I don’t care. I am not Indian, I do not pretend to be. I just like making good food that people will eat.  So what I started with is a simple recipe from here: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/vegetable-masala/detail.aspx . Basically, I just use the guidelines for the spice mixture and added what ever vegetables I come across in the market. Sometimes it’s sweet little baby zucchini , sometimes it’s cauliflower, but I always keep the potatoes. I also like to use tomato paste instead of blanching and peeling tomatoes. It saves time and makes the sauce richer. But what really kicks this dinner up a notch is adding chickpeas. The garbanzo or chickpeas(Cicer arietinum) are a very good source of folic acid, fiber, and manganese. Loaded with protein, as well as minerals such as iron, copper, zinc, and magnesium they are also a great source of fiber.  Garbanzo beans can help lower cholesterol and improve blood sugar levels too. Not bad for something tasty and so cheap.

Since I pride myself with being a conscientious consumer, I buy my beans by the bag and cook them up myself instead of purchasing cans. This allows me to cook up big batches, and with the chickpeas, I split them up between the above recipe, homemade hummus and roasted chickpeas, which makes an awesome snack.  Believe it or not, the main element in hummus, tahini, is pretty easy to come by here and with the help of my trusty vintage Cuisinart food processor, I can whip up some hardcore hummus in no time. I use to think that chickpeas were just those vile, cold, little turds in the salad bar, but when you cook them yourself you can add any number of herbs or spices to rev them up. By tossing in one (only one) of those evil habanero chile peppers while cooking, you can infuse them with a nice mild heat.

With Rafa’s parents being closer than we had anticipated recently, I was apprehensive on how they would critique my cooking, especially with my recent interest in bolder meals. Rafa will coo about my cooking, but some people just like what they like. The curious smells certainly piqued their interest, and the whole medley of vegetables was impressive, and when they sat down…there was silence. It’s not often that there is silence at a Latino dinner table.

Lets just suffice to say, that they gobbled it up.

2011…in review

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Wow.

So I made it a year. Tis the time to look back and reassess, adapt and move on. Usually, moving on meant just barely keeping my shit together, but this year I seriously evolved. This was not something I was actively trying to accomplish either. It’s just that when I think back, to things that only happened a little over a year ago, it seems like an eternity and I am such a totally different person. Funny, since I have been following other bloggers, not many have hung on. Yes, I could have written more, and more often. Sometimes Rafa and I would just sample a place quickly, and I would think to myself “Next time, I will write about this.” So, here are a few places we hit that I have failed to mention and that are worthy of your colones:

Product C http://product-c.com/

Rafa and I stopped in on a Sunday afternoon and had a small nibble. There is a dramatic pause here because I am reliving the sheer awesomeness of their raw oysters. They were a special that day and I was leery of even thinking about getting them. Oysters are an all time love of mine and I have had some silky sweet succulent sliders. Raw (well, duh) with a drop or two of lemon, only. My good friend and sailing aficionado, Jess, and I would wander into places sunburned and surf soaked to suck down some cocktails and seafood and nothing would get us going more than harassing the staff on the quality and constancy of their oysters. Moving to Newfoundland and opening up our own oyster farm was something we seriously considered (after imbibing said cocktails). I had believed the only good oyster was a cold water oyster but Product C changed my mind. If you are jonesing for some hardcore fresh seafood, look no further. This place beats them all hands down. Oh yeah, we had some pretty amazing carpaccio too.

Hoxton http://es-es.facebook.com/pages/Hoxton-Pub/189143081133320?sk=info

Now this place claims it’s a pub. It’s not. It’s just a tiny bar (with no stools) and a handful of tables. It caters towards the younger set, so if you wander in after dark, it’s usually booming. It has Costa Rica Craft Brew, but not on tap (hence, not a pub). They do play good music, but (God forgive me, I am getting old) it can get quite loud. The kicker is they do have a nice kitchen that offers up some good grub and some excellent fish and chips. And that’s my problem. I haven’t written about this place because I cannot stop ordering the fish and chips. My hometown has fish fry dinners that are out of this world and the Hoxton’s fish and chips remind me so much of home that I am willing to deal with all the pretentious 20 year olds and the fact that my ears will ring for days afterwards.

Sofia http://www.sofiamediterraneo.com/

This place is only a few doors south of Olio. We wandered in, of all the nights, on belly dancing night and I must say, it was fun. Run by two Turkish gentlemen so full of energy (and probably ouzo) you cannot help but be impressed at how much they are able to accomplish. Service was good even amongst the gyrations of the belly dancers and the food was superb. Real honest to God Mediterranean and lamb balls to die for. Yeah, I belly danced too. I had nothing to drink that night, so I can say this with a clear head: I really think one of the dancers was a dude.

La Petite France http://es-es.facebook.com/lapetitefrance

This is a tiny little place tucked into a corner of Curridabat on a very busy street. A street we happen to use often since EPA is on it, and well, yeah…the kitchen. Anyway, we stopped in out of curiosity and were not disappointed. It’s French and there is no two ways about it. Open only for a few hours a day, with a tasty but limited menu, it’s worth sitting and overlooking the crazy street for these lovely baguettes. As much as I try, I cannot help but also have one of their superb éclairs. I can pass over any of the local sweets, but when it come to these pastry perfections, I sweetly succumb.

My consumption of alcohol has dropped precipitously. I hardly drink beer anymore, but if I do its only CRCB and the most I can do is two pints. Same goes for wine too. Rafa and I can share a bottle (over dinner) and that’s enough. Mostly we just save up for Sunday mimosas, which are certainly drinks best enjoyed leisurely, with tasty snacks and a nice view. Besides: http://articles.nydailynews.com/2009-08-06/entertainment/17933890_1_sexual-satisfaction-female-sexual-function-index-glasses

Unfortunately, I have become MORE addicted to cheese this year. Being on a tight budget certainly reined in my consumption but I discovered Pricesmart here has been importing some seriously awesome European cheese. Even as I type this, I am nibbling on a slice of French Blue that I have hidden from Rafa in the back of the fridge. http://www.care2.com/greenliving/cheese-contains-morphine.html

I am the happy hedondist.

I know I seem to write all about blue skies and rainbows. It has nothing to do with convincing you that I am living in paradise and more with the fact that I have altered my out look on my life. I had a lot of anger stored in my tiny body. I had spent years grinding my teeth smooth, seeing doctors about my stomach issues, and getting headaches that would cripple me. They are no more. Alas, I did have a minor set back a few months ago. A traffic altercation escalated between Rafa and an illegal, non Tico, taxi driver. I had assumed that Rafa, with his silver tongue, would smooth things out but things unfortunately turned physical. With 20 years of self-defence training behind me, I shot out of the car like a hellcat and put a beat down on him like he has never had…at least by a woman. This guy was bigger than Rafa or I by at least 60 lbs but there was a ferocity in me I never knew existed. He retreated bloodied and bruised, leaving me behind jacked up on adrenalin and Rafa with a torn shirt. For weeks, the whole situation bothered me. Things truly could have gone horribly wrong. The thought of something happening to Rafa left me cold. As one friend told me, “Yer gonna have to meditate on that one.” And she was right. So mister illegal taxi driver, I am sorry for that level of violence… but I am not sorry for defending someone I love.

We have also been dealing with an illness in the family. Not wanting to air family issues or ruffle any feathers, I will only say that personally, it has been challenging to meet up to the expectations of all around me without being intrusive. This is something I have never had to deal with before, but as the year winds down, I feel very honored to be a part of this family and offer all that I can.

Rafa gave me an opportunity to let go of my old existence and build a new one this year. Sure there will be this gap in my resume for 2011, but I feel now that I can conquer any challenge that comes my way. If I had to sum up the year in one word, it would be blessed. I feel very, very, blessed. It’s been a long time since I could look back like this and feel this way. And and even longer time to look forward to so much, with someone.

“In a true partnership, the kind worth striving for, the kind worth insisting on, and even, frankly, worth divorcing over, both people try to give as much or even a little more than they get. “Deserves” is not the point. And “owes” is certainly not the point. The point is to make the other person as happy as we can, because their happiness adds to ours. Because in the right hands, everything that you give, you get.”

Happy New Year everyone!

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.

Never a dull moment

“What’s with the pied piper?” I chirp at Rafa. I can hear the pitch and roll of a pan flute coming from the street.

“That’s the knife sharpener.” He’s so matter-of-fact about the statement, I wonder how I could not possibly make the connection. What he doesn’t seem to connect is the fact that I have been pestering him for weeks to get MY knives honed. My granite cutting board is excellent for keeping things clean but really dulls my Henkels.

I stared dead at him. “Oh yeah” he giggles and calls after the guy.

At first I though I would be giving him my knives only to have them returned some time later. Silly me. This man is the whole operation rolled into one on wheels! It was pretty cool. With a grinding wheel and homemade kick stand, he was able to peddle and sharpen. As soon as he stopped for us, neighbors popped out with their dull instruments too. Plus, it gave them a chance to poke fun at my wobbly Spanish. In a matter of minutes, my knives were good as new and all for a couple of bucks, including tip.

Granted, there are a lot of street entrepreneurs around here selling everything from food, to furniture, to orchids, to services rendered. It’s quite a racket and, for the most part, I don’t partake. But I am all for my little sharp wheels guy!

I don’t know how far he travels but if you hear the tinkling of a pan flute in your neighborhood, run and get your knives. You won’t be disappointed.

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