Sunday, September 16, 2012

Blackberry Sunday

It is Sunday, September the 16th, the first day of the second half of September and one of the last five days left this summer.  The sun is bright, the air is warm but "fallish" and it is the perfect day to grab my heavy wool shirt, ask Molly the Moo if she'd like to "go for a walk", and stroll down the dirt road that runs in front of our ridgetop house.

At the end of this particular straightaway the road itself bears right, but Molly and I know to go to our left, through the yellow gate and onto the logging road.  That's where the blackberry bushes are.  It is also where there is a spectacular view of the first slopes of the Cascades.  And it is where we are completely alone.

It's an odd and wonderful feeling to stroll past densely packed bush by densely packed bush and to think that no one else comes here to pick, to revel in, to be AMAZED by, all these perfect blackberries, not to mention the view.  And maybe that's good.  It seems a waste, but then each time I come down here with Molly I know exactly where the biggest ripest berries will be because they will be right where I left them.

 I have filled quart yogurt jars, gallon zip-lock bags and even a blue plastic dishpan with blackberries here and never seen a soul.  I have seen deer and Molly has had her chase at them.  The bees buzz around me in warning, but we co-exist. We think we've heard the bear huffing and snuffing, but haven't encountered him yet.  We can hear the cars crunch by on the gravel a couple of hundred yards away, but other blackberry pickers?  Never.

I always have a song in my head and today while I pluck the ripest and fattest of the shiny berries from the thorny vines I sing snatches of the Byrds' version of Bob Dylan's You Ain't Goin' Nowhere.  The buzzing of the bees and the sound of the thorns catching at the sleeves of my heavy shirt are all I hear as I half hum-half sing, "...gate won't close the railings froze...".  Later, as I wander a little farther down the weedy logging road I find that I have morphed into Bob Will's "Stay a Little Longer; "pull off your coat throw it in the corner, don't know why you don't stay a little longer..."

I'm wistful today, from the changing of the season as shown to me by the ripeness of the berries, I suppose.  Some are so ripe they fall from the vines when I pick the ones next to them, while others are withering and drying.  The fattest of the berries are plump and full of flavor and juice, nearly collapsing into themselves as I drop them into my bag.  This spot, this splendid isolated smidgen of paradise may not be here next year in this secluded form.  I can see the blue and orange plastic ties of the lumber company on some of the bushes and Kathy has mentioned that this area may be cut in the coming year.

I wander from patch to patch, smiling at how the size of the fruit and even the temperature of the berries changes from bush to bush, and from one side of the road to the other.  I don't linger at any one bush, but meander past all of them, "berry picking" only the fattest and ripest.  After all, they ARE all mine.  I have learned, from Kathy's advice, to wander around the sides of the bushes and behind them, to find secret stashes of berries that catch a perfect morning or afternoon sun.

This is my time, Molly's time.  We have no schedule, just a plastic bag to fill, or not fill.  Molly sniffs and wanders, never quite sure why we need to come to this particular spot, but happy to get to go.  Just the going is so important to her.  To me, it's the solitude, the quiet, watching the subtle changes even in the berries.  I love to stretch for branches just out of my reach and to step down on the vines that protect the inner fruit.  I could wear long pants and get farther in, but why?  It seems enough of a concession to wear the long sleeves.

I work my way down one side in the shade and back on the other in the sun (but not religiously, sometimes veering and varying).  The shirt is getting warm and the bag has a little tiny leak from catching on the thorns.  Molly walks ahead a bit and comes back, walks ahead and comes back.  She's getting bored, but I am lingering just a bit.  Will this be the last visit this year?  I know I need to come back, but schedules, work, life, all those things get in the way.  I have today, I have my songs, I have my berries.  I think we'll go home.

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.