Thursday, January 27, 2011



It must have been last Saturday morning that my cell phone sang out its peculiar song and there was my up the hill neighbor, Morty, on the phone. I hadn't done much other than exchange a few neighborly waves with him, and there was one brief conversation, and then he started coming into La Cusinga to eat. And he kept coming back. I liked that.

So when he mentioned a party and a birthday cake and some other things like that I kind of panicked, having heard nothing of the sort from anyone. I knew I had a dinner reservation for some local/regulars that very night, but didn't know much about any birthday cake. It turned out, fortunately, and upon further questioning, that Morty's event was his own birthday party and was for the following Tuesday. In all too familiar form, I just hadn't been apprised of it by the gentleman who had taken the reservation.

Despite Tuesday being a valued day off, one of the few I get in this part of the year, I was happy to be able to host and cook Morty's birthday dinner. It was going to be 13 people, and was going to include a lot of friends, old and new. I like Morty and his recent and frequent appreciation of what I do in the kitchen makes me like him even more. More importantly, this was going to be Morty's 70th! To add to the festivities, he had requested "the" pineapple upside down cake (the one I call, "Not Your Mother's Pineapple Upside Down Cake") as his birthday cake, and he wanted it on the table so that he could serve it. It sounded like a grand idea to me.

On the appointed Tuesday I began the birthday cake by making caramel with butter and raw cane sugar. I had over 30 for dinner and would need three cakes, so I had two sticks of unsalted butter and 2 cups of the sugar in the pan. While the caramel cooked over a low heat I cut the skins from two ripe pineapples, cut them in half lengthwise and cored them. The cored halves got cut into a series of half-moon shaped slices to lay into the, oops, the caramel. I stepped back to the stove, gave the caramel a couple of quick (but careful, this stuff is like napalm) stirs and poured it into the bottom of the cake pans.

While the caramel had been cooking and the pineapples were getting cleaned and cut, I had put the mixing bowl of butter, more cane sugar and organic vanilla on the back of the stove to soften the butter and make it easier to cream. I laid the pineapple slices down into the caramel in as nice a pattern as I could muster and then weighed out the dry ingredients; flour, ground almond, baking powder and a pinch of salt. I was just about ready to put these babies together; cream the butter and sugar, add the eggs and sour cream and fold in the dry mix.

And then there was silence. The lilting Brazilian music coming from my iTunes had stopped, the humming of the refrigerator had stopped, and the every bang of every pot and pan in the dish sink seemed deafening. The power had gone off; not an unexpected nor unusual occurrence, just one particularly ill-timed.

All I could do was keep moving forward with things that required no electricity. I had ordered fresh fish to come in Tuesday so I knew we'd be getting something good for the birthday dinner and sure enough the Dorado (mahimahi for you up there) that came in was perfect, pristine, glistening fresh. I had a bag full of succulently ripe mangos, so it was pretty apparent which direction this was going to go. I would need no electricity to cut fish or make salsa.

I had the second half of a batch of carrot/beet/ginger soup so that was and obvious choice for our first course. I've been so busy I have had trouble keeping up on my backlog of soups, but I had set this one aside; a good one. I season this with plenty of fresh grated ginger, a healthy hit of Thai red curry and then puree it with fresh orange/carrot juice. It is a great zap-pow of a palate opener, and thank goodness it was already pureed.

I had four vegetarians on the books and realized that this was the perfect time to take advantage of the oven being empty. I had planned on Ayote Rellenos as the vegetarian entree and the halved, seeded squashes would need to roast for nearly 40 minutes. The ayote is in the pumpkin family, but is green and colored like a zucchini. The ones I use are a little big bigger than a softball. I cut them down the middle from top to bottom, scoop out their pumpkin-like seeds, drizzle them with olive oil, hit them with sea salt and black pepper and into the oven they go. I'd figure out their stuffing later.

Our weekend had been so busy that I'd had to make an emergency call to Marjorie at Diamante Organico for more produce and I had it all at my fingertips for Morty's big night. Her husband Bolivar had cut fresh palmito (hearts of palm) for me so I sliced that and tossed the thin slices with fresh mandarina juice, strips of roasted sweet red pepper and a fine mince of garlic greens. I finished dressing it with a splash of olive oil, sea salt and several grinds of black pepper; a salad within a salad.

I kept listening for the music to resume and the stand-up refrigerator to resume its annoying vibrations and humming, but nothing. Not yet.

Marjorie had also picked me several small heads of romaine that morning as well as a bag of fresh arugula. Perfect, the crunch of romaine with the pepper of arugula. I would dress it with my not-Caesar (everything but the anchovies) dressing and serve it with wedges of vine-ripe tomatoes drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and just a hit of balsamic. I wanted just one more touch for this party, so I grated some of the fresh goat cheese I get at the Feria from the Mennonites. All of this with a mound of the dressed palmito in front of it? Perfect...

I get two products from Diamante Organico that may be exclusive to me, I don't know, but I haven't seen them anywhere else down here and I love them both. One is mix of braising greens, sometimes nine or ten types; mustards, kales, collards, local greens I don't even know the names of, chois, wild spinach and more. These greens are just lovely to look at and the textures are fascinating to me. The other specialty item is curling strands of Chinese long beans; tender and sweet. These two would be the vegetable accompaniment to the Dorado and yes, mango salsa.

We have been doing a puree of camotes (local white yams) and plantains that has been a favorite during my two years at La Cusinga and I knew its pale yellow color would show well against the bright green of the two chosen vegetables. We cook it just like mashed potatoes, adding the ripe plantains at the end. It gets mashed with milk and butter and just a hit of waht the Ticos call "miel de pulga", the syrup taken and cooked down from fresh sugar cane. The fish goes on top and the salsa goes over fish and puree.

After I had cut the shining filets of Dorado into dinner portions I addressed the sweet smelling mangos. This has been both a great and an early season for them and they were perfectly ripe and sticky to the touch. It has taken me a while, but being down here it became imperative that I learn to cut mangos efficiently, and I believe I have finally figured it out. I trim off the ends, stand them up, and with a sharp paring knife, remove the skin. I then follow the ovate pattern of the seed and cut the flesh away in long chunks. To be honest, I made a mess of many a mango before I finally figured this out.

Once the mango is freed from its stone, it gets diced into salsa size, along with red bell peppers and red onions. The jalapenos I get from Marjorie are quite hot, so one, seeded, stemmed and minced fine was certainly going to be enough. Sea salt was sprinkled over the bright golden and red mix in the bowl and two mandarinas squeezed into the nearly finished salsa. I tossed it all and stuck it in the refrigerator. There would be cilantro added, but not until the end, to keep it fresh and bright.

Then, yes, noise, music; the happy Brazilians were back at it. There was rattling, humming from the refrigerator, and power. I grabbed the mixing bowl of softening butter from the back of the stove where it had been forgotten and latched it onto the Kitchen Aide to cream. Oops, it wasn't going to need much creaming. This butter was nearly melted. I wasn't really sure how that was going to affect my cakes as I am neither a baker nor a scientist. But these babies had to get in the oven, and soon. This cake really benefits from sitting a while before it gets cut.

I "creamed" the nearly melted butter and tapa dulce and added the eggs and a healthy cup and a half of sour cream. The flour/almond mixture got folded into the bowl in batches and the bowl scraped down with a spatula, hoping for the best. The batter seemed a bit looser than usual (go figure) but I was thinking it had to bake anyway, didn't it? I smoothed it over the pineapples and the caramel and praying a little prayer to the kitchen gods, slid the three cakes into the oven. Now it was up to Science and the Universe.

My last major chore was the building of the vegetarian entrees. I had pulled the roasted ayote halves out of the oven when the cakes had gone in and they pierced nicely when prodded with the tip of a knife; done and ready to "rellenar". Because we do both lunch and dinner, there are any number of odds and ends floating around the refrigerators at all times. Generally, and this works well in the vegetarian world, there are little bowls of prepped cooked veggies, rices and who knows what. I always keep a batch of cooked frijoles tiernos (shelling beans) around as a base for vegetarian meals, so I had all I needed.

I sauteed the "basics" to get started. Chopped onion, diced red bell pepper and garlic in olive oil is a good way to start almost anything. The day before we had roasted trays of tomatoes in olive oil and I chopped up five or six and with a bit of their orange roasting oil added them to the "basics" in the pan. Next in went a handful of chopped braising greens for some color. I hit the pan with a half a cup of water to help wilt the greens then added a cup of the cooked frijoles. I tossed the pan to distribute all this goodness and then added a big spoon of some vegetarian rice that the lunch crew had cooked the day before. It was studded with bits of broccoli, cauliflower and kernels of corn and added a great look to the mix. I added a bit more water, turned down the flame and put a cover on it to allow the flavors to come together in private; nearly done. I would heap this into the cooked ayote shells and they would be ready to bake.

Olga had finished the cleaning the greens and the lettuces, the camotes were peeled and coming to a boil and the water for blanching the long beans was nearly ready. The soup was ready, the components of the salad were ready, the fish was cut, the salsa was tossed and the cakes were finally in the oven. I breathed.

Morty and his wife Paula showed up around 4:00 before their guests; he lugging a crate of wines and she trailing behind. He was his usual grinning, shambling self, utterly charming and totally without pretense. It was the first time I had met his wife Paula, who has Emmylou Harris silver hair and a New York accent, quite an interesting combination. I got them someone who could help them ice the wine and told them that their special meal was nearly ready. I walked them up to the top deck and their guests began to arrive.

Along with Morty and Paula's group of 13 there was another group of 11 yoga practitioners and four couples. The time of seating would be tricky if I wanted to avoid having a cattle call and feeding everyone at once. Franco, the leader of the yoga group solved that problem for me by coming down and asking if it would be a problem for them to eat at 7:00. No, not a problem, and, in fact, probably a blessing. The dueces (couples, pairs, twos, for you non-restaurant readers) would be easy, they always are. You can sneak them in and around big groups easily.
I was pretty sure the birthday party would sit just after 6:00 when the sun was well down and we could get the bulk of their service out of the way early.

I got the final details ready; chopping garlic, hauling out the pans and the all important portioning of the desserts in the final moments before the final feeding and cooking frenzy. I pulled out the perfect Dorado portions, put them on sheet pans for roasting and dusted them with sea salt and fresh ground black pepper. The mango salsa came out of the refrigerator to receive a handful of chopped cilantro and to come up to room temperature (doesn't take long here). Olga had put the finished puree into a bain-marie (double boiler) and I adjusted the flame to keep it from boiling over. Now I was just nervously pacing.

Then it was 6:05 and Morty's party was filing in. I knew nearly all of them and since they've all eaten with us before they knew just where to go. I let them do their toasts and then hit the table with 13 small bowls of the chilled soup. The server and Olga both wanted to rush a bit, but I wanted to let them take their time so we dressed the greens leisurely, place the tomatoes and hearts of palm, just so, and sprinkled the shredded goat cheese over the top. Nice looking salad.

The dueces filed in, the olive oil went in the hot pans; the greens braised and the long beans sauteed. The fish went into the hot oven and emerged. Everyone got soup and salad and of course, just as the perfectly cooked Dorado came out of the oven, the 11 sat down. I had, oh so cleverly, pre-poured their soups, so as those were served we were able to plate the ten fish and roasted stuffed ayotes for Morty's birthday dinner. The puree had come out a lovely pale yellow color and when the mango salsa went over the fish the palate of colors went from pale to brilliant yellow flecked with red, nestled up against the bright greens of the vegetables. It was a lovely plate.

As usual, all of this flew past. The actual service is so fleeting compared to the time spent prepping it all and there is a certain irony to that. Olga and I did the kitchen dance; me placing the first vegetable (the braised greens) and the fish while she darts around and in front of me with the puree and the long beans. I salsa and she pulls the finished dishes from the counter. The plates get wiped and are suddenly arrayed in the service window

It seemed like only seconds before I was straightening the flowers around Morty's birthday cake and scooping the accompanying mango ice cream into the bowls. The yoga group was chowing their entrees and all the dueces had been fed. The cake went out to the singing friends at the table and I could see Morty happily serving up the fat slices of the upside down cake. I love this part; the smiles, the laughter, the empty plates and the air of satisfaction, satiation and peace.

I visited the tables, as I do each night after the entrees go out, and basked in the appreciation of our labors. We had worked hard and it was, as it always is to me, worth it.
Morty was presiding at his table and glowing. The guests were murmuring and smiling in a food-induced semi-coma. This is the way it should be and I was so happy to have been able to have my part in it. Happy Birthday, Morty.



I actually got to take a night off to go dinner last night and spent some quality time with my friends Richard and Debbie. Of course we were talking about food and I got to waxing on about how much earlier the mango season had come this year than last and just how damn good the mangos were this year.

I was rattling on and on about just how special mangos are to me, now much I love to cook with them and just how damn sensous a fruit they are, and Debbie said to me, "But how do you cut them? I can't seem to do it without getting a mess all over the place. Her question reminded me that I had written a piece for Dominical Days about my mango-lust and had included in the second part a pretty good description of how I like to cut them to get the largest and best looking pieces from this most luscious of fruits.

I have reprinted my paean to mangos below. The first part is a love/lust story and the second describes how to cut the fruit and gives a recipe for a nice mango/mustard glaze. I would like to add to the instructions about the cutting that it works best with a sharp paring knife, for removing both the skin and the fruit. If you are able to use a vegetable peeler on your mango then it is probably not ripe enough to be considering in the first place.

MANGOES, FINALLY I GET MANGOES (From the July, 2010 issue of Dominical Days)

This has been the breakout year for me with mangoes. I always liked them, but didn’t love them. I’d liked using them in my kitchen, but didn’t really understand the possibilities they presented to me. I knew that they were a richly flavored and almost sexual fruit, but I just hadn’t gotten there with them, so to speak. And lastly, I just couldn’t figure out how to cut the damn things.

This mango season that has all changed. Maybe it was that I became more committed to working with local ingredients and knew that they were an essential part of a tropical kitchen repertoire. Maybe it was the smell of them in my car on a warm day as their honeyed juices warmed, and maybe it was licking my fingers after cutting them for my “Salsa de la Jungla” and discovering that each mango had a slightly different yet equally powerfully seductive flavor.

This is the year that I discovered a “signature” sauce based on mangoes. This is the year I made mango vinegar, numerous mango salsas, mango-mustard glaze and mango-coco ice cream. I found that the mango could stand up to the acid of mandarina, the bite of ginger, the heat of habaneros and the sinus opening blast of hot mustard.

I have paired mango this year with chicken, fish and pork. Each of those meats picks something up from the inherent mango sweetness and if they are cooked on the grill, they give something back with the flavor of smoke and charcoal. A crusty pork loin or crisp skinned chicken thigh brushed with a mango glaze and then pulled from the grill is barbecued poetry.

The season is almost over but there are still sticky sweet mangoes at the Feria. Buy and use them now or puree the flesh and use it later. But however you use them, don’t forget to lick your fingers.


So now, with any luck, I’ve made you want to run out and grab a few mangoes, and in an “end of the season” burst of creativity, have your way with them. I buy them with three criteria in mind; feel, smell and color. I want my mango to have some give to it when I squeeze it, but not just in one soft place. I want the smell to be aromatic and sweet. And I want the color to be a lovely hue of red running into gold over the entire fruit.

Cut off enough of either end so that it will stand up on its own.Using a paring knife, from top to bottom take the skin off in longnarrow strips. When the peel is gone, stand the mango up again and look at it from the top. It should be ovate, rather than round. The longest sides of the oval are where the greatest amount of the flesh is. Using the blade of the knife, find the seed and slide the knife downward, staying as close to the seed as possible. The flesh should come away in a long even piece. Continue around the mango, working the knife down the pit. You will have two larger pieces of mango and several other long narrow pieces. You are ready to cook.


Flesh of One Ripe Mango

Juice of 2 Mandarinas

½ Cup Orange Juice

½ Cup Tapa Dulce, or Brown Sugar

1 tsp grated fresh ginger

2 TBS Dijon Mustard

In a stainless or non-corrosive pot, put all the ingredients except the mustard. Bring up the heat to a low boil and then reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring to break up the pieces. Remove from heat and stir in the mustard. Use as a glaze for pork, chicken or fish. Use it now, or chill and reserve.

Monday, January 17, 2011



I often forget, and how easy that is for me, that there are people out there in this world who do not look upon food as I do, or perhaps even as the readers of this blog do. I tend to think that the greater portion of reading and traveling humanity shares an appetite and fascination for all things culinary, similar to my own. Why would they not be enraptured by the freshness of the food, the purity of its credentials and the wondrousness of the combinations of flavor therein?

There are times at our seasons at La Cusinga where that difference in attitudes and "food visions" are more clear than others. This is one of those times. This is our "high season" and along with guests who come to relax with their spouses and/or families we also entertain a number of groups who are traveling through Costa Rica and make many stops. La Cusinga is but one of those destinations for their birdwatching, flora/fauna studying, yoga retreating visits.

This was quite evident this past weekend. We were host to a group of traveling gardeners from a particular organization and a mid-western US state that shall go unnamed. They were a group of 20 and had arranged to take their morning, mid-day and evening meals with us for three nights. Because we are also open to our general public over the weekends, it was an interesting opportunity to observe the basic differences in people's approaches to the feeding process.

On the evening that most represented this schism of "food values" we had our group of 20 at our large round table (along with a few satellite tables) and at another table we had two couples who are regular customers of mine and big fans of our food. With the addition of a cold soup course for the smaller table, the menus and food served to the two groups was identical. The reactions were not.

Our first course went out; a tossed mix of organic greens in an emulsified citrus-dijon dressing. Served alongside the dressed greens were organic tomato wedges drizzled with a mandarina/olive oil mix, roasted organic beets marinated in balsamic and herbed vinegars, and a mini-salad of cucumber and paper thin slices of organic celery mixed with minced garlic greens and tossed with an herbed white vinegar. All of these sides to the basic greens were seasoned with fresh ground black pepper and sea salt.

Because I watch every plate that comes back from my dining room I was able to see that the plates that came back from my regular guests had been nearly licked clean. The called me over to the table and because they had astutely picked up on the differences in the dressings (four vinaigrettes in all!) wanted to know just how I had dressed each of the components. (And they wrote to my Facebook page the next day to express their appreciation of the combinations and the balance.)

The plates that came back from the large table were perhaps split equally between those that had been cleaned of the salad and the ones that had had the components of the salad segregated into small piles and shoved off to one side or the other. A lot of the beets went untouched, which is not unusual; most of the cucumber-celery salad had not even been tried; and , surprisingly, a lot of the lovely vine-ripe organic tomatoes had not been eaten. Several of the salads appeared untouched. And these people are gardeners!

The entree plate was composed of a puree of camotes (our local white yam) and plantains; a braise of a mix of eight organic greens; a saute of broccoli and green beans with garlic and red peppers; and the entree was freshly caught Dorado (mahimahi) set over the puree and topped with a delicious and brightly colored mango salsa. I love this dish.

Again, when the plates returned to the kitchen, the ones that came back from my local group of four were cleaned. No, wait, there was a broccoli floret uneaten on one of the plates. As I readied the desserts the plates began to come back from the large group, I could see the mountains of uneaten food piled up on them. Untouched puree, whole pieces of fish (!), salsa pushed to the side and a lot of untouched braised greens. Granted, there were a number of plates eaten clean but the amount of uneaten food surprised me.

Our dessert for the evening was a mango-almond tart topped with my own homemade mango ice cream and it was not surprising that nearly every dessert plate came back from both tables with the dessert completely eaten. There were, as there nearly always are, those who don't eat either the cake or the ice cream, but these were few.

What does this tell me? Well first, it tells me that my friends, my regulars, had come to eat and to eat well. They had brought two bottles of wine and they relaxed and enjoyed themselves; they dined. My other guests, the large group? I had compassion for them. They were traveling, living out of suitcases and carry-ons and in a whole new and quite different environment. They were gulping wine, but almost desperately. But above and beyond that, it still strikes me as odd that grown-ups (!?) no matter where they are from, still carry their food prejudices with them to the degree that there are certain things that they just will not try.

And perhaps I live in a bubble. Food is my life and it is unthinkable to me to consider that I would not try something put before me on a plate. I have traveled considerably, and look forward to the opportunity to try things that are unfamiliar; I try everything once. I am not sure that I would be able to travel if I were so concerned about whether or not I was going to like the food.

We have guests who plop down in their chairs, right in front of the glistening blue Pacific and tell me, "I won't eat fish". Please note, that is "won't" not "don't" or "can't". Are we arrogant if we travel and demand that the food be made to suit our own specific likes or are we merely exercising our right to demand that our tourist needs be met? I am not sure of the answers to these questions. I do know that it is strange to me that I would visit a foreign country and be pre-disposed to not want to eat the food. As I said, perhaps I live in a bubble.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Full Speed Ahead?

Welcome to January. The holidays are past us, and in true high season form we have gone from a standing start to full occupancy with nary a chance to draw our collective breath. As usual, the Christmas and New Year's inundation left us reeling and gasping and now we need to find our feet and figure out how to logically set ourselves up to be busy Every Single Day.

As I have lived a life in the restaurant business (and not that I'm recommending that to anyone, oh, no No NO!) I am used to coming in to work each day and prepping for a full and busy night. It is second nature to me to peer into my refrigerators each day, clear out the debris, see what can be reshaped or reformed and then organize myself combining those things with the new and fresh. It is a dance, a puzzle, a new breathing of life each and every day. I must confess that I love the challenge and I love putting my hard-won skills to work solving the puzzle.

Unfortunately, it is not something that one can teach in a short period of time. It certainly was nothing that came to me early on, but rather, a philosophy I had to develop myself as well as grow into. I had an amazing mentor, Lucien Kuwamoto, in my "green and raw" days, who beat me up and taught me to use my hands, but better yet, taught me to think, to consider and to plan. He also instilled in my a philosophy of how to work, as an individual, but also how to make a kitchen work and run.

Well trained chefs do their purchasing and their prepping with an eye to utilization. In a properly run kitchen, nothing goes to waste and each purchase is made with an eye to how it can be used to each and every advantage. The great god of Food Cost was the determining force of so many decisions related to purchases. In theory, nothing will go to waste.

I learned that one made the most money for the "house" (and therefore might be entitled to more oneself, with any luck and patience; always patience) by learning to butcher and subsequently using all the disassembled parts in various ways. Hind quarters of beef and veal became steaks and roasts, the glory cuts, yes. But it was the trimmings and the lesser regarded sections of the animal where the money was made. Veal scallopini gave way to veal parmagiana which gave way to blanquette de veau which gave way to various forms of stroganoff and other cost effective stews. The unusable bits, the silver skin and the membranes were roasted with vegetables and turned into a "mother sauce". Truly, nothing was wasted.

The way I work now, at La Cusinga, and in places past, puts more emphasis on the fresh. The menu ostensibly (?!) changes each day and the challenge is now to incorporate that which was fresh and new yesterday into something that is equally fresh today. Equally, the challenge exists to get a staff of young country women, not trained professionally, and in some cases, not trained at all, to grasp, however remotely, that concept of utilization.

I love the learning process, and it has been a joy to me to see the light come on in faces not used to being taught and not used to being encouraged to take pride in the things they do. The realization that rice can be cooked in the oven and doesn't have to boil on the stove until the bottom of the pot is thick with crusted burnt grains is a concept that has only recently been embraced (particularly since this makes the cleaning of the pot much easier). I am moved hearing the pride in the voice of Angelica, my day cook, when she tells me that the mix has been made for a batch of ice cream, or that the bananas have been roasted so that another mix may be started.

The busier we get, however, less of those concepts learned are put to use, and in what is just human nature, our kitchen staff goes back to what they know. Sadly, this often translates to small bits of food hidden away, obscured in a giant hunk of aluminum foil, or a myriad of tiny bowls filling an entire refrigerator shelf, each with a slightly less than usable portion of some treat from days gone past. Despite my pleadings the cover of choice remains aluminum foil as opposed to clear wrap. The foil is about four times as expensive, but is so much easier to handle.

Each night at the end of my shift I place plastic container of usable cooked vegetables in the front of the refrigerator that holds the lunch products and each day when I arrive, there it sits; unused and perhaps unnoticed. I put portioned fish and pieces of chicken that can be used in lunch specials there as well. I want to be able to reach these young women some way, some how, but the connect, the lightbulb, the vision is just not something I seem to be able to communicate. I am not sure if I am battling against a cultural issue, a training issue or a motivational issue.

I want so much for the women I work with to feel the pride, the joy, of a job well done and I would love to sense that more often. Frequently I sense an "oh well, another day" as they scrub their pots and mop the floors. Of course there are moments of light and they do give one hope. There has been some staying a bit later to make sure ordering is done and there are moments of inspiration and even motivation. Yes, there are and I must make sure I notice them. I must also remember the patience that my mentor had with me, so much patience.

One of my favorite quotes is from the baseball manager, Tony LaRussa, in which he says, "Good management is putting people in a position to succeed." I will continue to try to break through. I will continue to praise, to teach and to patiently explain the "why". I will keep doing damage control each day, going through the many tiny bowls and unwrapping the mystery packages. It may make me crazy either way, giving up or forging ahead, but the only way I know how is to keep at it, to keep making the point and explaining the "why". After all, we are in "that" part of the year and it is Full Speed Ahead.

Friday, January 7, 2011


“Summer’s here and the time is right for…” buying your produce at the grocery store? I hope not!

I am seeing a lot of old friends but also new faces when I make my stop at the local grocery stores in Uvita for my ration of club soda. But sadly, I am noticing a lot of grocery carts filled with equally sad produce taken from the shelves of these grocery stores (which shall remain nameless).

I would like to remind everyone, full timers and summer residents alike, that we have access to locally (!) grown organic produce at two Ferias here on the coast so that you don’t have to buy wilted goods trucked in from somewhere far away.

There is a farmer’s market at Citrus restaurant in Ojochal on Tuesday mornings and another in Uvita at the Rincon on Saturday mornings. Additionally there is the massive Feria in San Isidro on Thursdays and Fridays. Please join with me in supporting our local growers as well as treating yourself to fresher tastier veggies.


A great way to utilize those organic lettuces you got at the Feria is with a big salad with a nice piece of organic fish or chicken on top. I like to serve mine with organic tomatoes, cucumber and delicious local hearts of palm. A piece of grilled fish on top is perfect. A squeeze of mandarina over the top is all you need for the perfect evening meal after a day at the beach.

This is a great basic salad dressing recipe that holds up in the fridge for days.

Food Processor or Blender

1 Whole Egg and 1 Egg Yolk;

1 TBS Dijon Mustard;

2 Oz. Good Red Wine Vinegar;

Juice of 2 Lemons;

6 Cloves of Garlic, finely chopped;

Dash of Hot Sauce, Tabasco, or any other;

Sea Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper

¾ Cup Good Olive Oil (Not Extra Virgin)

¾ Cup Canola or Light Cooking Oil

Put the first six ingredients, plus a good pinch each of salt and pepper into the food processor, turn the motor on and blend them well. With the motor running, begin to add the oil, first in a very slow but steady stream, and then bit by bit, more rapidly. As the oil is absorbed into the egg/mustard mixture you will hear the sound of the motor change slightly as your dressing begins to emulsify. If the dressing is a bit thick, add a few teaspoons of water with the motor running.

I know there will be the standard yelp that the organic prices are higher, but remember, the product is pristinely fresh and its shelf life will be longer. The yield from locally grown products will be greater (you won’t be peeling those floppy leaves off the outside of your lettuce heads) and the difference in flavor is easily worth whatever extra colones you may part with. Treat yourself to buying and eating locally.

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.