Tuesday, December 18, 2012



We got our first blizzard warning of the year last Sunday.  It arrived in a modern and hi-tech fashion, via an unearthly screech from Kathy's iPhone. The screech brought breaking news from the weather watch that our specific area of the world, tiny little Scotts Mills, was going to undergo a series of wind storms with gusts topping out at 65 MPH.  Our personalized disaster forecast also advised us that we were in severe danger of power outages and falling timber as well.  Well.

We've been through the drill before so we went about our various chores designed and assigned to ensure that we would have light, water, heat and the other necessities should we indeed lose electricity.  Not only does electricity power our lights and stove, but our well is run by an electric pump; no power, no water.  I filled the five gallon and one gallon containers and together we cut kindling and stacked wood.  Kathy checked the flashlights, the lanterns and the candles.  I wheeled the generator out of the shed, fed it some gas and pulled the cord.  Lo and behold, it fired up on the third pull.  It seemed we were ready.

I made the executive Chef decision NOT to move any of the food to the outside freezers (which the generator would power) until such time as the power really did go out.  We are all well aware that the weather bureaus do have a wonderful time indeed working themselves up into a lather when the weather promises to get exciting.  If the power does go out our inside freezers give us a comfortable four to five hours before we even need to consider ferrying the groceries out to the back.

Ironically, or fortuitously, depending on how you see these things, I had begun a large batch of bird stock the previous day, incorporating the thanksgiving turkey bones into our large stock pot along with the remains of a few roasted chicken dinners and sundry leg and wing bones.  The stock had gone for many many hours at this point and probably could have been strained at that point, but as I am always greedy for every last little bit of flavor, I wanted to let it go as long as I could.  

That morning we had discussed the evening's dinner plans and Kathy let me know that yes, we still had leeks out in the garden.  They and some carrots were the last survivors of the year's garden.  Well yes, there was that giant ugly horseradish plant that I had insisted on buying, but it doesn't really count.  We've got buckets and buckets of home-grown potatoes so potato-leek soup was just the right thing.  Just the right thing because it seemed a perfect meal given the weather and just the right thing because that was what we had; potatoes, leeks and stock.

Potato-leek soup is such a simple joy, particularly if one doesn't mind peeling potatoes and cleaning leeks (I don't), because that's just about all the work that goes into making it.  Kathy was kind enough to brave the high winds and the mud to do the dirty work in the garden and together we uncovered one of our "winterized" water spigots and washed off ten nice leeks along with a dozen or so carrots she had rescued as well (more about the carrots later).

I split the leeks about 3/4 of the way up several times lengthwise and ran them under running water to get the grit and the mud out.  I diced them fairly small once they were clean and I had about a cup and a half of diced leeks when I was done.  I put the leeks in the cast iron dutch oven on a medium heat to get a bit of the water out and when the seemed to be dry I dropped in a nice chunk of butter along with some salt and pepper.

While the leeks were stewing to a sweet smelling transparency, I peeled eight medium sized red potatoes (we have yukons as well, but the reds go soft faster) and cut them into cubes.  When the leeks had gotten themselves into a nice gloppy green mass I stirred the potato chunks in and covered the whole thing half with stock and half with water and brought it to a boil.  That's pretty much all there was to it.  I let the potatoes completely turn to mush and then pureed the soup with a small immersion blender.  I add a bit of salt as the potatoes had sucked up a lot of it, as they are prone to doing, added a half cup or so of milk and it was ready.

I did let it sit and simmer for an hour or so on the lowest possible heat just to let the flavors do their "getting together" thing and adjust the salt and pepper right at the end.  We had nice steaming bowls of it along with some oldish but reheated La Brea roasted garlic bread and butter.  Warm, satisfying and yes, very very simple.  And no, the power never did go out

An addendum to this story is that today, two days later, we woke to 2-3 inches of snow.  The yard was covered, the cars were covered and still Kathy had to go to work for her final day before he Holiday break.  Since she was out in the weather I thought I would make something nice and warm for her to come home to, so I threw together a small batch of carrot-ginger soup.  We'd had the carrots and onions and the day before I had picked up a chunk of ginger about the size of my thumb, or maybe your thumb, at the store.

I followed pretty much the same process as for the potato-leek soup with the carrots.  I chopped one medium onion and grated about a teaspoon of garlic.  I stewed these very slowly in butter while I peeled and sliced the last survivors of our carrot crop.  I did stir in a teaspoon of brown sugar with the onion-ginger mix and cook it for a couple of minutes before I added the sliced carrots.  I stirred them so that they coated with the butter and then covered the vegetables with water.  Since the carrots have such a sweet delicate flavor I didn't want to overwhelm them with the predominant turkey flavor that the stock had come out with.

The soup cooked for about fifteen minutes, or until the carrots were quite tender and then, once again, I took the immersion blender to them.  Presto, a lovely fragrant carrot-ginger soup.  Don't tell Kathy, but I did adjust the salt level just  a tiny bit.  

So when the weather is nasty, keep it simple with your cooking.  You get more reading done that way.

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.