Category Archives: Food

My Walk To The Village…

I was thinking it would be fun to document some of the sites along my way to the Santa Barbara village from my house. The walk is up and down hills, through a small barrio or neighborhood, and has amazing vistas that are hard to capture with my camera, but I’ll attempt to explain as we go along…

Just outside my gate.

To begin, we are walking down the hill toward the infamous turn in the road where the dogs attack me if they are so inclined. I’ve discovered that they actually might be short-sighted and are trying to figure out what an ankle is, instead of having the intent of biting it off my foot.

We are at right around 4,000 feet above sea level here. My walk to the village goes up and down hills, so it’s an aerobic experience evidenced by my pants now sliding off my hips.

Corner neighborhood store.

We are now about 2 1/2 city blocks from my gate. These little neighborhood stores have front counters with the proprietor sitting behind it. S/he will gather the groceries you want and bring them to the front counter. It’s interesting. You see this type of store all over the neighborhoods and sometimes they have little kitchens where you can have a nosh as well… those are called Sodas.

Half way to the village.

The next photo kind of explains how the walk to downtown Santa Barbara from my house goes up and down hills. The hill you see in the background here is at about the same elevation from where I started. I descend and climb about three of them on the way to town. I don’t know if you can tell, but I’m still walking down the hill from my house. You can see that the homes here are protected with various types of gates and sometimes at the top of the gates you’ll see coiled barbed wire. This is because there aren’t enough police in the country to be on-call if burglars are prowling around, so people protect their properties with obvious gates, fences, etc. Behind these gates are deep and sometimes really large gracious properties and yards, so looks are very deceiving along the roadsides.

Rico Pan means Delicious Bread! One of the primary streets in Santa Barbara.

One of the busy streets in downtown Santa Barbara. This store is where I buy my bread. I walk in now and the ladies know me and immediately grab a plastic bag and tongs, reaching for the freshest bread just out of the oven. We all have big smiles on our faces as they hand it to me and it’s still warm from the oven. I do my happy dance with squeals of delight at their generosity! It’s a baguette direct from heaven that’s still warm even after walking a block away afterwards, catching a taxi to take me back up the hill to the gate, walking two blocks from the gate into my kitchen where I slather it with butter for my breakfast. I don’t eat all of the baguette, although I’d like to… as you can imagine. It’s enough for sandwiches for lunch, too, and heavenly cubed and toasted in a skillet until firm, then topped with homemade black beans and freshly grated cheddar cheese for dinner to finish it off. Ahhhh, just another day in the life, huh?

My Reward!

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Plantains, Conversations and Falling Leaves, among other things

Delicious Fried Plantains

Fried plantains are now my go-to munchy treat. They’re sweet and satisfying when fried in a combination of olive oil and what they call here in Costa Rica Numar margarine (which is I think a combo of oils used extensively in most cooking here). Plantains are similar to bananas but much larger. I like them cooked when they’re yellow and starting to get brown spots because they’re becoming sweeter at that point. They are used when green as a starch here in stews, like potatoes. Yumyumyum, give ’em a try as a snack or side dish. They’re not going to get crispy, so be warned they’re not chips, just a creamy sweet textural addition to eat instead of a cookie, which I happen to be weaning myself off of…

I’ve now facilitated two English Language Conversation classes at the UTN college campus in Alajuela. Not only has it been a fun experience and really satisfying in terms of ‘giving back’ or community service, but it’s gotten me out of the house and to a new major city here in Costa Rica. I’m still lost but I find myself interested in the city itself as a great place to wander and explore, much more so than Heredia which is a larger city and perhaps therein is the difference in my attitude. Both classes were small with interesting folks participating. With only 4 or 5 people, an hour of facilitated conversation is a bit difficult…. you really have to be prepared with many topics… and I have to admit I floundered a bit until I realized that the students wanted to know as much about life in the US as much as I wanted to know about Costa Rica. Another realization occurred when I suddenly realized that I was there to have conversations, not forced responses to topics chosen to discuss one by one around the little circle of chairs. A much more vibrant response was had by all this time around!

On my walk to the University I realized the leaves were falling off the trees! My initial thought was – perfect timing because it’s November after all – then immediately followed by ‘ Wait!! It’s not fall in Costa Rica, it’s Spring bordering on Summer!’ The leaves fall here because it’s warming up and the trees don’t have enough moisture to support the continued greening of their leaves. Kinda the opposite of what I’m used to in the US in a strangely wonderful twist.

The city of Alajuela is warm bordering on hot right now. I’m sure as the weeks progress into Summer it will be a bit excruciating. Thank God I haven’t tried to wean myself off potato chips yet… my rationalization is that the salt of the chips will stave off dehydration, especially if coupled with Fanta Orange Soda.

Costa Rica Cooking …

For the last 4 months, my food choices here in Costa Rica have centered on fresh products and creative cooking, thanks to my son Gabriel who has an allergic digestive system that must be catered to or all hell breaks loose! I learn something new about fresh-ingredient cooking every time I watch him cook. So here are three results of rapt attention to detail that you might enjoy trying out your own self…

Fried Rice with Seafood
You know those little packets of chilis that come with pizza? Put a packet of that, along with a T butter, in 2 cups of water, add 1 cup rice, bring to a boil, turn down to simmer until the water is cooked off. The trick in warm climates is that rice NEVER goes into the refrigerator. Use of a lid on the pot is enough, and if you eat all the rice in various ways within a couple days, you’re good to go. Just like bread, putting rice in the refrigerator changes the chemistry and it becomes just a lump of starch without any redeeming gastronomical value.

Now finely dice 1 stalk celery, 4 cloves of garlic, half a red onion and half a package of mushrooms. Finely chopped is the key here. To 1 T each of butter and olive oil in a non-stick frying pan on medium heat, add half of the finely chopped items. Stir fry until the garlic begins to get a bit browned. Add 1 cup of your choice of mixed shell and regular small-sized diced fish. The fish I used included octopus, bass, salmon,  calamari and muscles. Stir until fish begins to cook, about 2 minutes. Stir in 1 tsp of Tabasco Garlic Pepper Sauce, kosher or sea salt/pepper/dried basil to taste, then transfer everything in the pan to a bowl and cover it with aluminum foil then a plate. It will continue to cook as you finish up with the fried rice.

Now put another 1 T each of olive oil and butter into that same pan and heat on the high side of medium until melted, then adding the rest of the finely chopped items. Stir fry the veggies until they’re looking pretty cohesively warmed with the mushrooms giving off their juice. Now add a little more than a cup of that cooked rice that is at least at room temperature, if not just finished cooking. You want to brown the rice now, so let it cook, then stir, then cook, then stir, until you see the rice has some nice browned pieces throughout.

Pour the rice onto a plate, pour the fish over it, sprinkle half a lime’s juice over it, then about 2 T of chopped cilantro. Fantastic!!! Enough for 2 people, although I became so enraptured with the taste, I ate it all in one sitting.

Believe it or Not: Spicy Pasta

Boil the pasta in salted water with a T of butter until al dente. Leave pasta in water, put a lid on it, then do the sauce.

Coarsely chop half a red onion, as many cloves of garlic as you like (I use 5), and brown in 1T each butter and olive oil. After garlic and onion are beginning to brown, add a small fresh diced tomato and stir until it begins to get limp, then add some meat of your choice – I used about half a cup of hamburger – and cook until the meat’s done. Add salt, pepper, dried basil, dash of cayenne and about 1/2 tsp of Tabasco Garlic Pepper Sauce, stir well. Butter (or not) several pieces of baguette and place atop the sizzling sauce, cover, take off the heat and let the bread warm up for about 2 minutes or so.

Drain pasta, put on a plate, put small slices of some kind of cheese atop the pasta, pour the sauce over the cheese, the slices of bread around the plate and there’s your momma! Again, enough for two, altho if your taste buds govern the “full” meter of your tummy, you might overeat… just sayin’

Fresh Fruit Granita

In a blender, put juice of  2 oranges and 2 limes. Add 1 pint of fresh strawberries and 6-8 packets of Splenda. Blend well. Pour into shallow plastic container or pan , cover with plastic wrap and freeze overnight. Take out of freezer and let sit for about 5 minutes before dragging/scraping a spoon over the top of the frozen concoction, gathering sweet mouthfuls of guilt-free deliciousness whenever necessary.

One last thing… consider a fresh peeled beet placed in the midst of cooking red beans. If you use canned red beans instead of making them yourself, dice the beet – fresh beet, fresh beet – into chunks and cook them in the sauce provided with the beans from the can until the beet is cooked. Yummy! Add spices of your choice, keeping the beet in mind… perhaps some processed horseradish and cooked sausage? Double yummy!

ImageI thought it would be interesting to share costs of my recent shopping trip. So many people want to know what the real costs of living here are. Hopefully the following will help a bit. Remember that all fruits, vegetables and eggs are grown in the vicinity of the store. Sides of beef are hanging in the room immediately behind the butcher’s case, which is an interesting twist, so to speak. Here’s a list of what I purchased that will last me about 4-5 days. I already have black beans and rice galore and spices available at home. So here goes: package of tortilla chips 1.95, one large/medium carrot .21, one bunch of cilantro .23, 2 large tomatoes 1.24, 2 large beautiful and delicious avacados 1.82, 4 chicken legs (2x size of what you’re used to) 2.15, half pound of hamburger 3.87, a large white onion .76, 4 bananas .16, and 9 eggs 1.89. Add to that the taxi ride home, 1.60, and the total for the shopping comes to $17.09.