Sunday, November 7, 2010


I know there haven't been many food related posts here, but it has been a while since the opportunity to cook has arisen. That hardly means, however, that I am without adventures.
This is another one brought on, at least partially, by our record rainy season.

Each morning at between 5:15 and 5:30, Russell, the huge and untrained German Shepherd of whom I am in charge (?), begins to bark; a deep sonorous and resonant bark. He barks at the first things that move and continues to bark until I roust myself from bed and then go wrestle with him to get him off his chain so he can run and poop and pee. We wrestle because he becomes so excited at the prospect of being free that he begins to buck and rear like a small horse. Of course it is in no way obvious to him that this impedes the muddy path to freedom.

Thursday morning was the beginning of another day of thunderous driving rain. It had rained all night and all day the day before. The ground was saturated and swamp-like in front of the house and the walkway beneath the eaves that help to keep Russell dry was slick with mud and rain from his forays out to bark in the rain. At dawn's first bark I rose to do my unleashing duty, knowing that the more quickly I did it, the more quickly I could return to a warm bed inside and the sound of the rain outside.

I eased the door open and peered into the gray dawn and the equally gray curtain of rain and there he was, leaping up on me with muddy paws and rank doggy breath. I pushed him back and down, as I do every morning, yelling at him "down" and "sit" even though it's as futile as screaming into a vacuum. Russell knows not word one related to obedience. He is trained by his masters with a rolled up newspaper slapped into an open palm and it is the only thing to which he responds.

We began our morning grapple to find the collar and subsequently the grasping of the all too small clasp that needs to be squeezed and pulled to send him off on his morning duties. This morning, for reasons unclear, he was particularly unruly and when he completely reared up he knocked me back and off balance. I lost my footing in the pooled and muddy water on the concrete porch and fell backwards, my back hit the door just as I was twisting to try to keep my tailbone from crashing into the concrete and the door slammed shut. Shut.
As in locked out at 5:20 in the morning on a calamitously rainy day with no power and/or water.

I was wearing a pair of thin sleeping shorts and nothing else. I lay there on the cold wet of the front entrance with a huge dog panting over me and a locked door behind me. I kicked at him and swore at him. Neither of those things opened the door. I pried at it just in case, but it was clearly, firmly and absolutely locked. Thanking God that I at least have the good sense to keep my muddy shoes outside the front door, I struggled to my feet, slipped on a pair of muddy Crocs and began the slosh around the house to see if it could be broken into.

I had previously broken in through the octagonally shaped kitchen window when I had grabbed the wrong keys upon exiting in my first week at the house. But I had repaired the crack I had made and had strengthened the lock. Good work. Around the back is impenetrable as the back wall is a corrugated aluminum door on a roller, much like that of a garage or grocery store. The only possibility was the bedroom window; open but secured by a spider-web wrought iron sculpture that covered it completely. If one was to push in as hard as one could, one might almost; but no, way too small for me.

I was now soaking wet and shivering a bit in the early morning rain. It may still be Costa Rica, but when it rains for days on end, the sun never gets a chance to do its warming work. I made my way back to the front door to see if there was something, some method of breaking and entering my own house that I had overlooked. Again I pried at the doors, the windows; working at the jams and attempting to find a slim piece of something that might be used to prise that once-broken kitchen window open once again. Nothing. I made this trek in the deep mud two or three times, before giving in and giving up.

I stood outside the bedroom window, which would be my only hope. I pressed at the iron bars and gazed at the slender opening and knew that there was no way that I was going to get through there. I pushed at the chain that held the two parts of the ironwork together and knew it would never break. I needed a bolt-cutter, or, wait, a small person, a very small person. I knew that Dan and Kim, the couple across the street might just have a bolt-cutter, but for sure had a small person. They have two sons, Reese and Wyatt, five and six years old.

Because it was still shy of 6:00 AM I retired to my car, blessedly beneath a carport, laid the seat back, shivered, and repeated the Serenity Prayer to myself, over and over. At least now I had a plan; I just had to wait until a slightly more neighborly hour to put it into action. There was no electricity and there would be no lights to inform me of my neighbor's having risen to greet the day, but they do have a two year old daughter and she, naturally, gets everyone up early.

I waited as long as I could bear and then slogged across the river that our dirt road had become, letting the pounding rain pour off my body. There wasn't much to soak, but it was all soaked. I stood beneath the upper balcony where Kim and Dan's front door was and sensed (YES!) motion and the early morning sounds of a household rising. I called out, "Hola, hola". And Kim came to the front door, blinking in early morning surprise and through the haze of the recently awakened.

I briefly explained my dilemma and within a few minutes tall Dan and tiny Reese were wriggling into ponchos and rubber boots and were accompanying this nearly naked neighbor across the muddy road to the back window. I explained my plan and they nodded, each of them not quite awake and certainly not at all clear on why they were out in the rain and the mud at this time of the day. We reached the back window, Dan and I pushed it forward as far as we could and Reese slipped through easily, handily.

The only obstacle now would be Molly, my own dog. She would bark or she would hide, one or the other. I talked to her and she let young Reese through and he made his way through the darkened and unfamiliar house to the keys. But they were hung too high for him to reach, I'd forgotten how short one is when one is six. Dan and I looked at each other wondering at the delay, but then heard the sound of something being dragged across the floor. Reese had spied the tall bar stool I have and was working it to under the pegboard that held the keys. He was using a technique I am now certain he had used before to get to things that might perhaps have been intentionally hung a bit high for him. A moment or two later his pale face was at the window, thrusting the keys forward. Victory.

Dan and I sloshed around the house one last time and opened the front door. Reese and Molly both spilled out and I thanked everyone profusely. By this time it was nearly 7:15. I had been locked out for almost two hours. I thought about sleep, but instead made myself a pot of tea and began my morning routine. Afterall, I had some thanks to give.

No comments:

Post a Comment

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.