Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Foraging in a Blizzard

Here we are in the second day of being snowed in and the third, (or is it the fourth?) day of snow and I am learning why it is that we have a winter garden, a good storage shed, and, naturally, a freezer. While the snow comes down sideways and the vehicles remain anchored in the ice, I am inside making the most, yet again, out of what we have put away for a rainy/snowy day. And yes, we are both praying prayers of hope that the power/water stay on.

The household foraging began a couple of days ago when I pulled a ball of pizza dough from the vast and icy deep and made a pizza with homemade sausage, garden onions out of the storage shed and tomatoes we had dried ourselves. Kathy had made a small provisions run when we heard the snow was coming and we had a nice combination of cheeses to make the pizza really sing.

Yesterday was chicken stock day and the house was filled with the aroma of nicely roasted bones simmering with their attendant and complimentary vegetables and the house still has that roasty rich smell hiding in different corners and down the back hallways. I've always contended that, rather than the"smell of chocolate chip cookies baking" theory that realtors proscribe to for selling homes, that the "aroma of homemade chicken stock" would work even better.

While the stock hoozled and goozled happily yesterday morning we went to the freezer yet again looking for food to feed unexpected lunch guests. Kathy's daughter, son in law and granddaughter made the trek up the hill to visit us, (but mostly to play in the snow) and we needed a cold day meal for them. We went deep into the freezer and came up a container each of chile and a multi-bean soup, made long ago, and along with some homemade biscuits we had just the meal for hungry and rosy cheeked sledders.

Today we woke to a healthy six inches of snow on the ground and the first flakes of another heavy fall just beginning to fly. I had pulled a chunk of chuck roast from our neighbor's last cattle harvest out of the freezer and the plan was for pot roast. I had, however, used all the carrots in the chicken stock and Kathy, who had promised for the last several days to pull up some carrots from their winter bed, was now faced with having to do it in the teeth of the blizzard.

And like the true Oregonian she is, she threw on a parka and hat, got down on her knees at the edge of the raised beds, dug through a half a foot of snow and yanked up carrots. Meanwhile I was making another treacherous run to the shed for the garlic and onions harvested lo, those many months ago, to accompany the carrots in their support of the chuck. Moreover, we had the remains of an old funky bottle of red in the back of the fridge that was just what my recipe called for.

The snowfall is thinning slightly and it appears that we will be able to venture out away from this property tomorrow. But the scent of the pot roast is alluring and serves as a reminder of the beauty of stored food. There are times when the thrill of finding those hidden chanterelles or fiddle head ferns under the scruffs of fir at the base of tall trees is a forager's dream. Other times, however, and these are those other times, the best foraging is done by rummaging at the bottom of the freezer, digging beneath the snow, or rootling around boxes in the shed for the last of the summer's harvest.

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.