Tuesday, August 24, 2010



On an unpleasant and confusing subject, the news reached us just over a week ago that Ben Vaughn's assailant, the man who bludgeoned him beyond recognition, kicked him repeatedly once he was on the ground and then left him for dead, has been released from custody. lt seems that the Costa Rican judicial system calls for a hearing at the end of a 90 incarceration to re-assess the sentencing of the accused. At this hearing, if there are no objections and if there is someone to assume responsibility for the accused, they can be set free.

One would logically presume, and in this case, desperately hope, that the victim and his attorney would be present to present their case and lodge their protests against the prospective release of the accused. Oddly, and frighteningly, Ben Vaughn and his attorney Randall Vargas, were never informed of the date of the hearing, although the brother of the accused was notified in sufficient time to be able to travel here from the US where he lives, and vouchsafe for his soon to be freed brother.

The ramifications of this nose thumbing at justice are huge and ugly. The first horrifying thought is that the assailant, a man with a long record of violent crime is back on the streets with a grudge. Since his release there has already been a theft at Ben's property. lt is impossible to imagine the fear and apprehension in the minds of Ben and Natalie in the face of this constant threat to their safety.

The second, and while less threatening, but equally horrible aspect of this is the complete collapse of any system in this country that protects the victims of violent crime. Ben Vaughn is a man who has believed staunchly, through his slow recovery from an attack that has changed his life, that justice would be served. He dragged his beaten and traumatized body to hearings and depositions just days after his release from lntensive Care so that the criminal justice system here would have the information it needed to perform its duties. And for Ben, for any of us, to discover through word of mouth, with NO notification of a hearing, that his attacker is back on the streets, is the worst kind of slap in the face.

How is he, how are any of us in Costa Rica to be protected from violent crime, when the legal system has no control over the attacker and no respect for the victims?

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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.