Mid October; well not exactly, but close enough; we've already crossed the halfway point of the month, and we are nowhere near the end of what has been a particularly heavy rainy season. According to some study done somewhere, we have received nearly 70% more rain this year than is normal (although, this being Costa Rica, normal is a bit of a nebulous concept). The fact of the matter is, however, that there is mud everywhere.
What I can tell you about it from my personal experience is that the front area of Casa de Uli, where I am now house sitting, turns into a lake, a marsh and a bog; pretty much in that order each time we get one our almost daily downpours. It makes the trip from the outlying garage to the front of the house an unpleasantly slippery, sloshy and muddy journey and is particularly memorable at night when I get home from work. I remember Uli's parting words being, "I wanted to put down a load of gravel there, but didn't get to it."
This is the time of the year when my feet never seem to get clean; you know, really clean. I suppose I could wear shoes that had ties at the tops, to keep the mud and the ooze from squeezing in, but that would require my tying the laces which is entirely out of character for me. I trudge through the sludge in my Chaco flipflops for everyday wear and my Keen's for hiking and walking the dogs. Yes, the mud slides in, but I don't have to go to all that work to affix these footwear favorites to my feet. And the added advantage is that I can just hose the mud off my chosen footwear. Sooner or later, even those in sensible shoes will step into or through a puddle deep enough to come in over the top and then one must suffer wet, gritty and muddy socks. Ick.
I guess, also, I could do what most of the Tico trabajadores do and wear shin high rubber boots, but have you ever smelled your feet after you've taken them out of rubber boots? It's enough to make you want to slip on your flipflops and walk through the mud just to get the odor out. There are a pair of Uli's rubber boots here, shiny and new, but his feet are also substantially larger than mine and I definitely don't need the blisters that would be incurred by even a short trek in those floppy boats. And there is also the cultural faux pas of looking like a gringo wannebe when you show up in town with a pair of practically new shiny rubber boots on.
Business? What business? All of Uvita is a ghost town except for us year-round residents and the action at La Cusinga is exactly the same. Every now and then one sees a couple of Euro-kid backpackers hop off the bus staggering under the weight of their giant designer backs. They look around, blink and head off to the nearest hostel. At La Cusinga our guests are made up of those to whom we owe favors or to those for whom we are extending a favor.
Last week we had seven young French guests ("what do you mean we cannot eat at 10:00? Sacre bleu!") who huddled on the upper deck in their ponchos and chainsmoked Costa Rican Marlboros. This week we have guests from a tourist agency who are bringing prospective clients from other agencies through, the off season being the only time to be able to check out prospective recommendations. Later in the week we are hosting a couple who are part of a group building a GPS system for the waterways and mountains of this area. This is a gratis stay and they have told us we can just feed them "rice and beans". Right.
Buying food to serve (and keep fresh) for this kind of business represents a serious challenge to my chefly abilities. Potatoes, onions, hardy green beans, even broccoli and cauliflower are no problem. The interesting veggies; my precious lettuces, greens for braising, long beans and others of that fragile nature are harder to protect. We rely on turnover and our vendors rely on our being able to buy in slightly larger quantities than you might for your home.
This buying pattern doesn't make me happy and it sure doesn't make my farmers happy. And as seasonality and bad luck would have it, this is a time of the year that so many of the rare and exotic come into season in the raised beds at Diamante Organico. Each week poor beleagured Marjorie calls me and I have to tell her that I can only take a kilo of this, two bunches of that, and fruit ordered by the individual quantity, rather than bags and bags of her organic goodies.
I have to be careful to keep enough food around for surprise local guests of whom I have had few in the last couple of weeks, but not enough so that it rots and turns to compost in the refrigerator. And you thought you had it tough.
Am I freezing fish? Why yes I am. I portion it and freeze it as deep and as fast as I possibly can.
And I would challenge you to be able to tell me that it's been frozen after I'm done doing my magic to it. But still; it is frozen and if and when anyone asks me, I look them right in the eye and then I look away and say, "yes, er, yes it is frozen; that is, no, it's not fresh". Damn do I hate to have to do that.
So come on October, kick it over into November and then we've only got one more (long and wet) month to go. December will magically bring the sun, it will bring the guests and it will bring loads and loads of fresh veggies and fish every single day. Pura vida. Chef Dave.