Wednesday, September 28, 2011


And yes, it was "just like that" that the warmth and generous spirit of Indian Summer were supplanted by a howling wind and sideways rain, last Saturday night. No messin' around here on the eastern edge of the Willamette Valley; when Ma Nature tells you that Indian Summer (and any and all summer you may have hopes of hanging on to) are over, they are over.

But please, please, please don't get the idea that we weren't/aren't ready for it. That's hardly the case. Here on the home front we've filled the woodpile with 4 cords of of firewood, harvested most of the garden and canned, roasted, dried and frozen just about everything that could possibly be of some use in the coming months of chill.

We have made the short drive back and forth to Ted Hazel's massive woodpile (he's a local woodcutter) in the White Buffalo, our 1990 Chevy Cheyenne pick-up with load after load of firewood. We'd pick it up at his place and hurl (or occasionally neatly stack) it into the bed of the truck then drive it up the hill here to our house where we once again hurl it out onto the lawn in preparation for the meticulous stacking process. This wood gets handled a lot.

I'm new at this, but Kathy has a plan and a system, and it's a good one, involving building strong corners using half logs and then stacking and arranging the rest in between. We've managed to get 4 cords of wood stacked into a relatively small area and it's pretty damn impressive. Just one cord of wood is, as I have learned, 4 feet by 4 feet by 8 feet, or, 128 cubic feet, and that's a lot of wood. Multiply that times four and you get a big old (neatly organized) pile of wood.

Each of our runs over to Ted's netted us about 1/4 of a cord, so there were 16 trips and then a number of afternoon stacking parties to get all this fuel into place. We heat our house with a wonderful old cast iron stove and it beats the heck out of paying a $300 month electrical bill, no matter how tired one gets of hauling and stacking firewood.

And just past the woodpile is the garden, which has been very nearly picked clean. Our early crops were potatoes, onions and garlic, all of which were picked and stored in the shed last month; but the most recent harvest has been tomatoes, green beans, peppers and a few squash.

If you'd asked me a month ago whether or not we were going to have ripe tomatoes, any ripe tomatoes, I would have had to tell you no, I didn't think so. All it took was three hot weeks from the end of August into the second week of September, and we've got almost more red, ripe tomatoes than we know what to do with, BUT, the good news is, we do know what to do with them. Kathy is a drying expert and we now have ten or twelve giant zip-locs filled with dried tomatoes for winter sauces and stews.

My preferred method of storage is a newer one that I developed a few years ago when trying to wrench flavor out of winter tomatoes while working in San Francisco. My technique involves pouring olive oil on a sheet pan, placing cored and halved tomatoes on it (cut side down), layering thick slices of onion and whole cloves of garlic in and around the tomatoes, pouring on more olive oil and then salting and peppering. The tray of tomatoes is roasted in a 400-450 degree oven until the tops blister and then removed and allowed to cool. I rough chop the roasted tomatoes and store them and all their luscious juices in yet more zip-locs. The tomatoes get a tremendous concentration of flavor (thus, my having used this technique on flavorless winter tomatoes) and can be used for pasta sauces, or added to braises and stews for more flavor. I love this technique.

We have eaten as many green beans as we could possibly shove into the front of our faces, and now they just get quick blanched and frozen for winter usage. We used the same technique for an earlier harvest of peas and now have four bags full. Kathy freezes chiles whole and it seems to be a pretty good idea. We have zip-locs filled with anaheim, poblano and jalapeno chiles stored in the freezer for future reference. There are still Walla Walla onions to be pulled and a scant number of pumpkins "oranging" in the last of the September sun. We had some kind of funky fungus that got to most of our zucchini, but then again, that may have been more a blessing than a curse. And last week we ate our last head of romaine so despite there not having been any summer at all until early August, I think we did pretty damn well.

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.