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Monday, December 20, 2010
Monday, November 29, 2010
Sunday, November 7, 2010
Tuesday, November 2, 2010
A letter from the tropics...
Well, my, hasn't it been "a week" down here; quite a week.
(After I'd written this the Giants went ahead and won the World Series, we got a day and a half of sunshine and it has now been raining for 22 hours straight. Two major segments of the Costanera Highway that runs up and down the coast have fallen away and it is closed again today (or was earlier this afternoon). It has been a "rainy season" to beat all.)
Yes, there is, of course, that amazing Giants thing. I fire up my laptop and go to mlb.com where they have a program called "AT BAT" whereby one receives a computer generated image of a baseball field and a computer generated image of a batter, either left handed or right, in the appropriate uniform. The pitches appear on the screen as blue or red swooshes (for strikes and balls, silly) with their approximate location, speed and type of pitch listed along with them.
It's kind of hard to follow anything if there happens to be any action. For example if there is contact the little box on the screen says either "ball hit (out)", or "ball hit (not out)", or in some cases, "ball hit (not out/run(s))".
Now the good news is that when there is not a major storm, all of these images are accompanied by one's choice of audio feeds; it is available from the home radio station of either team. Naturally, I choose the broadcast from KNBR (no, no more KSFO with it's jingle sung in wonderfully sonorous tones), and get the Giants regular announcers, Bay Area, (kipe). I also get the glorious crowd noise. and , or, as they are known affectionately in the
The bad news is when the weather is bad it cuts off the audio connection, which leads us to the second part of what has made this "a week". We have been getting supremely intense rainstorms which are washing away the mountains and the roads and causing the rivers to swell up over their banks to flood out farm and family.
From until we got 30 inches of rain in 36 hours. And the rain is so loud that it is impossible to hear music, the audio broadcast of the game (when it does come through) or someone talking to you on the telephone. The front yard here at Uli's is a swamp and , the laundry room (attached to the house but a couple of inches lower than the threshold of the front door) was three inches deep in water.
The small bridge that crosses one of the many rivers about five miles north of Uvita finally gave up the ghost and became one with the river yesterday morning, shutting down the highway for the rest of the day and until around 8 this morning. It has since been fortified with stone from underneath and one lane is open, but another good rain will wipe it out again. 15 kilometers south of us, just above Ojochal, where I used to live, the dirt has been mostly washed out from under a portion of the highway and all that remains of the outside half of either lane is a thin layer of asphalt.
I suppose I don't need to point out (but still will) that the road remains open, because this is Panama, and this is their major artery. I am presuming that shortly one of them will crack off the remaining parts of unsupported road top and the truck will tumble off the road. That should be fun., but one can only hope people are approaching it with some degree of trepidation. There is a huge amount of semi-truck traffic between the Northern part of the country and
Thursday I drove over the mountain to the Feria and although I left in a time of no rain, by the time I got to Dominical I had passed through four spots where the water was over the tires. If I hadn't cracked off one of my remaining original crowns and teeth, and had a dentist appointment in San Isidro I would have turned around and gone back home. But coming back home was when the real adventure began. The drive back down the mountain was treacherous, but as I came around a bend in the road, almost back to the coast, traffic was backed up in front of me. "Oh shit", I thought, "this just can't be good".
I got out of the car in the driving rain and walked up about 15 cars to have a look. Sure enough a huge portion of the hillside had slid and covered both lanes of the road just 1 kilometer out of Dominical. And it was a huge slide. There was no way it was going to be moved anytime soon and no way anyone was getting through for a while. I ran back to the car, turned around before the oncoming traffic got too thick and covered both lanes, and headed back over the mountain to San Isidro once again.
I gassed up in San Isidro and then, trusting my instincts and what I'd seen, I headed south down the to take the really long way home. It is 48 K south to Buenos Aires and then another 50 K northeast to Palmar Norte. The road winds along a river and passes by all the Del Monte holdings. Lots of pineapples. Palmar Norte is at the bottom tip of the Costanera, the highway that runs from Dominical through Uvita and Ojochal. It is another 40 K from Palmar Norte to Uvita. The entire time I was making the drive I was wondering if I had been too impetuous; whether perhaps I should have waited.
As I was pulling into the La Cusinga driveway after just over two and a half hours on the road I got a phone call from the La Cusinga office wondering where I was and if I was okay. It seems that I had made the right choice (and gotten out just in time); the road was shut from Dominical to San Isidro and there were slides in several places. The road wasn't cleared until sometime after dark and the people who had elected to stay and wait it out had sat in their cars in a driving rainstorm for nearly seven hours. It is a glamorous life here...
Last night, because of the bridge closure just to the north of us, we inherited a small wedding party. They had booked a ceremony and dinner at Costa Paraiso, just down from Dominical, for their tiny (13 people) wedding and couldn't get to it. We were happy to take them and their business, so I had an unexpected 13 for dinner last night. Where the Lord closes a door he opens a window or something like that.
On a different and much happier subject, Kathy arrives in Costa Rica late the night of the 10th and after she spends some time with her good friends Terry and John, I will drive up to Jaco (accent "o") the 13th to fetch her and bring her back here. I CAN'T WAIT!!!!!
So there you have it, all the news that fits. The skies are darkening over and I'm kind of glad that the bad roads have kept guests from the Lodge today and that I get to stay home and "watch" the Giants on the computer.
peace, love and serenity
Monday, October 18, 2010
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
WHO WE ARE AND WHAT WE DO
I returned to La Cusinga in January, 2009 with a dream in mind. I wanted to create a cuisine that would bridge the gap between what La Cusinga offered their guests physically and spiritually, and what they were putting in their bodies when they ate here. Just as La Cusinga represents a sustainable form of eco-tourism, I wanted to offer a cuisine that reflected that same sustainability. I was on a mission to show not just our guests, but also the people of this community that it was possible to create delicious, serious, mostly organic food using entirely local ingredients.
I had in mind a vision that would support local farmers, fishermen and food artisans and one that would create a new cuisine of coastal Costa Rica. I visit the markets each week to talk with growers and to develop the relationships that will be mutually beneficial as Costa Rica experiences its rapid growth on an international level. Dairy farmers, cheesemakers, rice farmers, ceramic artists, vanilla growers and cacao farmers; all are included in this vision.
I am often asked if I cook entirely locally and my answer, somewhat surprised, is always, “Yes, of course, why wouldn’t I?” This should be every Chef’s dream, to be able to provide the food for his guests with ingredients grown less than an hour away. Between the produce we grow here at the Lodge, the lovely organics I am able to buy from my loyal and local farmers, and the fish that come from the ocean I can see from my kitchen, we have created a cuisine here at La Cusinga that is original and unique to this area.
What we are doing is by no means unique internationally; after all the French have been using this model for years and the United States is home to a huge “farm to table” sensibility. But here in Costa Rica our world class fish and produce have been pushed to the side in an effort to create a more homogenous cuisine for tourists. I don’t believe we have to do that and I believe that the ingredients I get here at tiny La Cusinga rival those of any kitchen in the world.
I am proud of the food we serve at La Cusinga. I am proud that organic growers here have risen to the challenge of producing top flight produce and I am proud to be able to go right to the boats where our fish are caught. But mostly I am proud to be able to put food on our tables here that honors and respects the hard work of John and Bella, of Geinier and Henry and of all the people who make La Cusinga the world class Eco-Lodge that it is.
Monday, October 4, 2010
I must confess to being a bean lover and nothing is better, to me, than using a bean fresh, that would normally be dried. In the States, these are called “shelling beans” and they are taken right out of the pods and sold fresh. They are available at the Feria in San Isidro and during the season, there may be four or five types available.
The joy of these beans is that they cook in 45 minutes or less, cutting at least two hours out of the time on the stove. The real pleasure of them though, is the flavor and texture. These fresh beans have a richness, a creaminess and almost a “meatiness” when cooked that is unsurpassed.
When I see them at the Feria, they are usually laid out in bins, with a few kilos bagged up ready for sale. They are plumper and more colorful than their dried counterparts and there is a sheen to them, as if they have a healthy glow. The colors range from a pale pink to a mottled variegated pink and white to faint shades of green and yellow. Among my favorites are the heirloom variety, “Cua” which is a yellow-brown color, a bit more rounded than elongated with a deep almost nutty flavor.
I cook these beans much like I cook dried beans (except for a substantially smaller amount of time) and find that it’s best to start with a sauté of whichever vegetables you choose and the fat and meat from whatever pork product you like to flavor them. Sauteeing the vegetables gives them a greater depth of flavor that just adding them and letting them boil. For additional flavor I like to add a couple of spoons of of roasted tomatoes, or a handful of roasted pepper strips. You can of course, cook these beans in a purely vegetarian style, but they don’t call it “Pork and Beans” for nothing.
1 Large Yellow Onion, cut in ½” dice;
6 Cloves of Garlic, minced;
1 Carrot, cut in ¼” dice;
1 Jalapeno Chile (optional), cut in fine dice;
6 Strips of Bacon, or 1 Smoked Sausage (hot or mild), cut in cubes; or, 2-3 Smoked Pork Chops (it is quite tempting to use a combination of the three);
1 Ounce Light Cooking Oil;
1 Heaping TBS of “Jambalaya Spice Mix”
3 Fresh Thyme Sprigs (or ½ Tsp Dried Thyme Leaves);
4 Bay Leaves
Add the oil and pork products to a heavy pot and bring up to a good heat. If you are using bacon, try to get some color on it. Stir frequently and add the vegetables and the Spice Mix. Stir often, scraping up the spice mix if it should stick to the bottom of the pot.
Add the beans and herbs (and tomatoes and/or peppers, if you like) and cover by 2 inches with water. Bring the pot of beans to a boil and then reduce the heat until the liquid is just bubbling. Allow to cook for 15 minutes and then check the level of the liquid. It is best if it remains about an inch above the beans. Try not to let the beans cook at too high a heat or they will break up and not remain whole. It is important to keep the beans in enough liquid while they cook, but after about 30 minutes, as they get closer to being done, let the liquid cook down until it is just even with the beans. The beans are done when you can just squish them between your fingers. Remember that they will keep cooking as they cool.
Frijoles Tiernos are great served alongside grilled fish or meat, sausages, or along with either a highly seasoned and flavored rice dish for an upscale version of “gallo pinto”.
Thursday, September 23, 2010
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Sunday, August 29, 2010
lT'S ALL lN THE PANTS
Last night at dinner l approached the table of some guests (friends of mine as it turned out) to ask them, as is typical for me, how everything was. Fortunately, the food was good and they were happy, but then my friend John pointed to my chalk-striped black chef shorts and said, laughing, "And do those shorts make the food taste better?"
l was caught a bit by surprise, something that happens to me much more often in places other than my own dining room, but recovered quickly enough to show him the "Chefwear" logo that appears on the right front pocket of these and any other pants made by Chefwear. This is hardly a plug for Chefwear, or Kitchen Collection, or even Birkenstock, for that matter, all of whose products l wear to cook in, but more an expression of wonderment that people are amused that those of us in my industry have our own work clothes.
We laughed about it at John's table and then he pointed to the fork logo on the brand tag of my shirt and we laughed again. l made a joke about how unprofessional it would appear for me to be cooking in my own clothes, or perhaps, board shorts and a raggedy T-shirt, and how that might create somewhat of a mistrust of the seriousness of my mission; we all shared a chuckle and they went back to eating.
A couple of days before that, my girlfriend, upon seeing another pair of striped chef's shorts, had remarked that l looked like l should be refereeing a soccer match. And just a day or two before that l had been in a meeting when the person next to me, seeing the Chefwear logo on my shorts had burst into laughter and then said, "Oh, how cute, Chefwear, did someone make those for you?" l wandered back into my kitchen, after answering John, but the question plagued my mind as to why it would seem so odd and/or humorous to people that we kitchen workers would have clothing specific to our industry.
Forty years ago, when l first got serious about cooking, one was asked one's jacket size and pants size upon taking a new job. This was because restaurants used to supply their cooks with the work clothes of the trade. A linen company would deliver, along with the tablecloths and napkins, racks of cook's clothing, on hangers, and separated by size; checked pants and white starched double breasted jackets. A lot of them even stenciled your name on the sizing label on the outside of the pants pocket. Yes, really.
Was l ever grateful to find that out. Previously l had worked for steak houses that gave you a logo shirt and you wore your own pants. And by the end of the shift your favorite or even less than favorite Levis were coated with a layer of grease, and by the end of two or three days they were no longer your favorite Levis. Now, in my new attire, no matter how greasy l got, at the end of my shift l could drop my dirty clothes into a linen hamper and forget about them. Yes, l still had to slide my greasy smelly body into my own clothes for the remainder of my day, but at least l hadn't worked in them. l wore shorts home a lot and some of the cooks would simply wear the next shift's pants home and back in the next day.
Naturally their were glitches; days when l wore someone else's chef's coat, snatched furtively from a hanger, and days when l wore pants that were either impossible to bend over in, or were cuffed three times at my ankles. But still, the "mud and the blood and the beer" as we used to say, were absorbed by someone else's clothes. And l liked that a lot.
Somewhere along the line, probably as early as the late 70's, but to the public's perception, more like the early to mid-80's, restaurants began to change. People's ideas about restaurants and food began to change as well. And accordingly the people working in restaurants began to change. For one thing, someone who pursued a career in the food industry was no longer consider a pariah, or a certified loser, as had been the case in my early days.
The older men l'd worked with, the ones with military kitchen and country club backgrounds; the ones who'd looked at me in derision at my lack of experience, were now gone; retired, moved along to the next place or dead. The restaurant "lifers", among whom l now considered myself, were disappearing. Dinosaurs, my few remaining cohorts and l called ourselves.
A newer type of cook was emerging. For some reason working in a restaurant became "hip" and leaving one's graduate studies to become a cook/chef was not at all unheard of. And these new cooks didn't take at all to the old style industrial looking cook's clothes. l started seeing a whole lot of my new kitchen mates coming to work in and then working in their jeans.
And much to my dismay, once restaurants saw this, they began, in a cost cutting effort, to stop supplying their cooks with the black and white houndstooth checks of my youth. They couldn't get away with discontinuing the jackets, as the starched white look was too classic, but the pants were fast disappearing. And in their place were the jeans and cords that the cooks would come to work in (it was a good thing more than a few pair of cooks checks had made it home with me).
But something new was happening and l'll have my hand shoved in a hot french fryer if l can remember when it began, but suddenly baggy chef's pants with elastic waistbands began showing up in kitchens. lt seems that a woman named Rochelle Huppin (of course, it had to be a woman) had not liked the old stodgy and starchy uniform she'd been issued at the Culinary lnstitute of America (and damn, they even had cooking Academys now) and had designed and sewn her own pants.
As if overnight, Rochelle's pants (so to speak) were in every kitchen in America that mattered. They were comfortable, they were cool, in more ways that one and they pushed the envelope of design and color. Yes, the came in the same old houndstooth, but NOBODY wore those. They also came in solids, wild and colorful patterns with food themes, and they came in stripes. Every kitchen had two, three, four cooks sporting different and wildly colorful pants.
America had a new industry. Sales of cookware, expensive knives and cookbooks soared. Chefwear spawned a wide array of imitators, some good, some bad, but as near as l can tell, most still in business. Chef's were on TV wearing logo wear. Housewives could suddenly quote Bobby Flay recipes and had monogrammed chef's jackets hanging in their kitchens next to their All Clad pan sets.
So this is in part why Chef Dave is in the jungle wearing striped Chef Wear kitchen shorts. Consider them the Carhardt or Ben Davis of my profession and please remember, best of all, l don't have to cook in my street clothes.
Wednesday May 13, 2009 La Cusinga and Me
La Cusinga Lodge is a coastal rainforest eco lodge dedicated to marine and terrestrial conservation and environmental education. Its location on the southern Pacific coast provides guests with sweeping ocean views and a relaxing beach vacation. In addition La Cusinga is part of a private nature reserve that supplies the visitor with an unparalleled look at Costa Rican wildlife and rainforest. The reserve consists primarily of 250 hectares of virgin rainforest that borders thousands of more acres of privately protected forest. On Costa Rica’s still wild south-western Pacific coast, La Cusinga Lodge borders Ballena Marine National Park which was developed to protect the humpback whales that frequent the coast. La Cusinga Lodge was established in order to share the unique site with Costa Ricans as well as international visitors. Besides getting exposure to rural Costa Rican culture and beautiful vistas, visitors have access to highly prolific areas of primary tropical rainforest and unspoiled coast, all conveniently accessible.