Monday, April 5, 2010



Semana Santa

It is the Monday after Easter and the first day following Semana Santa. All of us here on the coast are breathing a sigh of relief and listening gratefully to the sound of the door to the Caldera Highway as it slams shut, at least for a week or so. For those of you who have chosen not to live here in beautiful Costa Rica, let me explain Semana Santa to you.

Semana Santa is the Easter week and is the biggest in-country celebration of the year for the Ticos. The country pretty much grinds to a halt and a lot of businesses give their employees the week (or at least a major part of it) off to celebrate and recreate with family and friends. Traditionally, a good part of this celebrating and recreating takes the form of loading all of one's family and much of one's extended family into the vehicle and bringing them out to the beach. After all, Costa Rica is a narrow country and the beach is only a three to four hour drive, either East or West.

As the family will be at the beach for an indeterminate amount of time, but will not be staying anywhere in particular, a great many of the household belongings are brought along. It is not uncommon to see cars packed with bodies, careering down the Costanera (our coastal highway) with not one, but two or three mattresses piled on top and beach furniture lashed to the bumper and trunk. Cookware is brought along, as the family living at the beach will need to eat, and many of the household conveniences are brought along as well. Plastic plates and drinking cups are easily purchased and just as easily discarded on the beach, so those are never a problem. And as the ocean can so easily be used as a receptacle for liquid and solid waste, not much else is needed in the way of paper products.

The general theme of Semana Santa is good fun and I'm all for good fun. When I first arrived in Costa Rica five years ago, I had presumed it was a staunchly Catholic country and as such would celebrate the week of the Resurrection with great solemnity. Somewhat to my surprise I discovered that the Jesus part didn't seem to play a big part in the Semana Santa festivities and that instead they were more centered around the consumption of major quantities of cerveza, a lot of food cooked at the beach and a horrifyingly large amount of fried food eaten from bags.

Additionally, the visiting Ticos never seemed to think all that highly of their "country cousins" (which is how this part of Costa Rica is viewed by the Big City denizens) and their disdain was shown by bad manners in restaurants and stores and particularly and most frighteningly, on the roads. I have driven in Mexico City, I have driven in Paris and I have driven in San Francisco's Chinatown. The driving here during Semana Santa rivals any of them for the fear factor induced by those with whom one shares the road. It is recommended that one proceed cautiously and keep eyes and ears opened for unexpected approaches by those who are, perhaps, less vigilant than ourselves.

But today is Monday. The aisles of the stores are empty, and while they are not fully stocked (particularly lacking in the chip department), the shopping is as close to pleasurable as it gets. The roads are clear and while one still looks to the left and right, one needn't worry so much about vehicles entering from unexpected angles. The shopkeepers look relieved and we are all in agreement that is so much nicer when Semana Santa is over.

1 comment:

  1. That says it all about "spring breaks". Good story, albeit a true one.


Wednesday May 13, 2009 La Cusinga and Me

This words below are from our website describing La Cusinga.  The story, however is much deeper and much richer than these introductory words can describe.  La Cusinga represents a noble and successful effort to preserve this section of unspoiled coast and to keep it alive as a model of what true ecology can accomplish.  The dreams and visions of John Tresemer, the owner of La Cusinga and the Finca Tres Hermanas that surrounds it, have been realized here in what is a true example for all who would preserve and protect what remains of this, or any natural wonder. 

La Cusinga 
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. 

i returned to La Cusinga this past January, 2009, with a dream in mind.  I wanted to create a cuisine for our guests that would bridge the gap between what La Cusinga offered physically and spiritually, and what they were putting in their bodies when they ate here.  I knew from having previously lived in Costa Rica for over two years that there were organic farmers and that sustainable agriculture was being practiced, but at that time it had been limited in its scope as well as its distribution.  

My first steps upon returning were toward the local Feria to seek out and communicate my ideas with the growers and vendors who could provide me with a local, organic and sustainable product.  The fertile valleys of San Isidro that lie over the coastal mountains and to the Northeast of our Pacific location are rich and productive but are only now exploring the potential that they hold.  

I had in mind a vision that would support local farmers, fishermen and food artisans and one that would recreate (or perhaps, create) a new cuisine of Coastal Costa Rica.  I visit the markets each week to talk with growers and to develop the  relationships that I believe will be mutually beneficial as Costa Rica experiences its rapid growth on an international level
Organic farming is a new and not heavily supported concept in our part of Costa Rica.  It is a brave step for farmers to make, as local communities of both growers and consumers have never placed, or not known to place, an importance on farming organically and sustainably.  I feel a responsibility as a Chef here to be at the forefront of those encouraging and supporting these pioneers  

I came to La Cusinga almost three years ago not knowing what to expect.  My first time through here was characterized by a lack of understanding and appreciation on my part as well as an inability to recognize or connect with the local "flavor" that would make for a coherent package for out guests.  I now feel as if I have made a "connect" with the property and the vision.  I am not completely satisfied and hopefully, never will be, until we are able to produce, right here at La Cusinga, the greater share of the produce we serve.  However, the groundwork has been laid with local farmers and the availability and quality of organic produce is impressive.

Now at La Cusinga I serve a variety of organic lettuces and braising greens.  My salads include wedges or slices of rich red tomatoes as well as sweet !00 and yellow pear cherry tomatoes.  I roast organic beets and marinate them in balsamic vinegar to be served alongside the lettuces and topped with a locally made organic goat cheese.

My soups are made from roasted and steamed local organic vegetables and tiny organic yellow creamer potatoes have found their way onto my plates, nestled against filets of locally caught fish.
I am now using a local organic cocoa powder that still contains the nuggets of cocoa butter unlike the fined cocoa powder in the markets.

And better still, I am able to use palmito (hearts of palm), ginger, cilantro and its sawtooth leafed cousin culantro coyote, mangoes, hot and sweet chiles, mandarina limes and yucca root from our own Finca Tres Hermanas to serve in my dining room at La Cusinga.   The connection from jungle and farm to table is evolving.  May it continue to grow.