Saturday, September 30, 2017

He Llegado (I have arrived)!


He llegado, as we say here in Costa Rica.  I have arrived!

The traveling is but a distant memory and I am happily in residence in my little cabina in the jungle.
All the purging, packing, cleaning, and moving is behind me.  I successfully navigated 150# of "stuff" in a trunk, a suitcase, a carry-on, and a backpack from my apartment to the rental car, from the rental car to the hotel, and then finally, at 4:30 in the morning, to the Portland airport.  After eight hours in the air the process was repeated in reverse upon arriving in San Jose, Costa Rica.  I must express my gratitude to all the people who helped my push, pull, haul and shove this bulky assemblage on its journey.

 Anja was kind enough to make the trip up the coast and into the big city to pick me up and we took off down into the center of San Jose on a shopping expedition.  I had wanted to gather a small pantry of Asian flavors to combine with the various vegetable and fish dishes we had in mind.  Mostly I was after miso.  Anja got us right to the Asian market without a hitch and when we arrived it was hard to even tell it was a market.  But then we went in through the barred doors to a rather stunning array of groceries, ranging the map from China to Japan with stops in Korea and Thailand.  Naturally I had to have some of everything--yes, miso-two kinds, Thai curry pastes, noodles, Hoisin sauce, wonton wrappers, gluten free soy, and more and more.
From there was a stop at PriceSmart, the Central American version of CostCo, for more restaurant supplies, groceries, etc. before we hit the road toward the Costa Ballena and, more importantly, lunch.

The drive from San Jose to the coast is mostly one lane and it lurches along behind over-filled ancient pick-up trucks, fruit vendors, and drivers intent on keeping to the 80kmh (49.7mph) speed limit.  It may take me a while to remember I'm not driving up and down Hiway 84 through the Columbia River Gorge.  The drive is hilly and wooded until it reaches the turnoff to Jaco, at the coast, where it is a bit flatter, but for one or two places, and substantially more tropical.  The road to Jaco is filled with funky fruit stands, each displaying rows of papayas, bananas, pineapples, and the more exotic local fruits like maricuya (passion fruit), along with dyed tapestries and cold drinks.

About halfway to the coast we crossed Rio Tarcoles, famous for it's crocodiles, and sure enough there were entire families peering over the guard rail down into the river to get a look.  Anja commented that they've always just looked like floating gray lumps and I'm inclined to agree.  Past the river the highway begins to run along a gulf and there is evidence of approaching the coast.  There are plenty of marisquerías (seafood restaurants) along the highway to Jaco, some with just funky little wooden benches under an awning, and some full-blown restaurants.  We chose one with a lovely covered patio that sat right at the edge of the beach and lunch was on.  No other customers were there  but that seemed to be the norm at all the places we passed.  But when we pulled in there was a Tico gentleman beckoning to us where to park.  Classy!

We were close to the water, in fact right on it, and there were fishing boats pulled up onto the beach.  There was a wonderful breeze coming in off the water.  All was good.  We could see a fisherman sitting in the shade on his upturned boat mending a net.  Yes, the real deal.
Anja had ceviche and I ordered a coctel de camarones "pinkies".  There were two choices of shrimp, jumbo and the pinkies, which can range greatly in size.  The prices reflected it as the jumbo coctel was 14,000 colones, or about $25, and the pinkies were 6700 colones, $11.70 in US dollars.  Anja's ceviche looked good and was nice and fresh, but the coctel blew me away.  I was presented a parfait glass with 15 (!!) beautiful perfectly cooked fresh shrimp ringed around a bowl of sauce, that were BIG and deliciously sweet.  Eating that shrimp, hanging out with Anja, and looking out across the beach at the beautiful blue sea and sky was the best welcome home I could have had.

Since I have arrived Anja and I have met several times and at her urging we created a "mind map" of all the things we want to do and need to do, both immediately and in the glowing future.  Our ambitions are high and I like that.  We've already scheduled a reservation only Dinner with the Chef of the Jungle in late October.  We're both thinking beyond just the restaurant and dreaming about making and selling our own vinegars, sauces, and pickles; getting a functional hydroponic garden up and producing, and raising chickens for our own eggs.  To be able to become as fully sustainable and self-supporting as possible is the dream.  Yes, it will be step by step, but WHY NOT??

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Leaving This Town, Part 2 (A whole different trip)

Leaving This Town, Part 2

There is an entry, far far back in this blog, that chronicled the frantic, sweaty, vodka-soaked exit I made from San Francisco back in the Fall of 2005.  It was filled with (cock)tails, insincere good-byes, and a lot of self-serving palaver.  It may have made for entertaining reading but it was actually a rather pathetic time in my life, one that would soon change.

We now move ahead 12 years and here I am, again making the big move to Costa Rica.  This time, however, things are a bit more orderly, a bit more composed, and yes, sober.  Rather than moving into the great unknown, I am heading to something that I know well enough that it draws me back.  This journey south, in reality, the third move to Costa Rica, is one filled with promise and ease rather than the boozy faux-confidence of the first and the nervous, newly sober anticipation of the second.
Hey, this time I got places to go and things to do and I couldn't be happier about it.

To get back to the "leaving this town" part, however, requires a bit of background.  I moved to The Dalles first as a four day a week semi-commuter, and then as things changed, as things do, as a single guy in a small apartment.  While there has been a bit of the sifting through the accumulated detritus of well paid, single guy life (too many jackets!!), this has been the exact opposite of my move from San Francisco twelve years ago.  This time I am not leaving a place I loved dearly, nor am I leaving a place where I had lived for 15 years.  I am also not trying to pack, edit, and organize my life while in a constant alcoholic haze.  This time I had a plan, I made lists, I gave myself enough time, time not uninterrupted by endless social engagements.  Funny how quitting drinking will do that to/for you.

When I realized I would be moving I began to assemble lists of the things I knew I would have to
jettison in order to beat a hasty and neat departure.  First, of course was the car.  I had bought myself a beautiful 2016 Subaru Crosstrek, thinking, at the time, that it would be the last car I'd own, that I'd drive through each and every snowstorm and across every iced street in it until I could no longer grasp the wheel or see the road.  When I bought it at the end of last October in anticipation (I must have sensed something coming) of a nasty winter, I figured it meant I would me, might well be, staying in Oregon for some time.

The old saying, "Man plans, God laughs" is all so very fitting for my car plans, my Oregon plans, my future plans.  When it became clear to me last April that I was to be a Costa Rican homeowner it also became clear that I would have to part with the first car I've ever truly loved.  I was sure, however, fiercely certain, that there would be a line of people stretching out my door for the opportunity to buy my "desert khaki", leather-seated, All Wheel Drive baby.  Was that ever a harsh lesson.

It turns out that running ads on any of the Facebook community want-ad sites here in the Columbia Gorge only attracted a whole passel of "looky Lous" who were more interested in things cheap or free
than they were things that were of value, but still a good deal.  I had begun by pricing my Crosstrek at $2000 under what the dealerships were getting for the same year and model.  A shattering lack of response had me nudging the price down, and as the days of my time here in The Dalles dwindled a mild form of panic set in.  I knew for a fact that if I were to return my car to the dealership that they
would screw me several shades of blue.

For some reason I kept trying this part of the Gorge area, The Dalles and Hood River, sure that the people here knew about winter and that they knew about Subaru.  I went through a whole week of getting no responses and then, at last, I had a buyer.  She was a lovely young woman with two kids and two dogs; a California transplant who knew she needed a Subaru.  However, after stringing me along unintentionally for five days as she exhausted her loan possibilities, she dropped out.  Finally the light bulb went off--Craigslist, Portland.  Why not?  And within an hour of posting the ad, albeit for just as much as I needed to pay off the remainder of the loan, I had the line out the door I had been dreaming of.  My buyer was willing to drive from Portland to The Dalles, coming over Mt.
Hood because of the fires, and within 24 hours the car was sold.

The same pattern repeated itself with the clothing I tried to sell for pennies on the dollar, and even cookware.  Most peculiar.  Unless I was giving stuff away, there were no takers.  So I gave it away--to Goodwill and St. Vincent de P's, winter clothes, lots of them.  And that's fine.  I've managed to donate boxes of books to the local library, and the ones they didn't want also went to St. Vinnie and Goodwill.  I hired a local mover to take the last of my furniture, the things that were far too heavy for this energetic but senior guy to take down the stairs, again to St. Vincent's.  A large portion of the last three years of my life is now up there.  Does anyone want some monogrammed chef coats, though?  Perfect.

Tonight I sit in my nearly empty apartment, two lawn chairs, a camp chair, and two end tables are all that's left.  I pack and repack the trunk to get the most of what I want in it, but still keeping it at just under 50#.  I'm debating on suitcases, but keep coming back to the reality that I don't need nearly as much as I think I do.  So much of this move is about simplifying.  I look forward to my log cabin, a wardrobe consisting of shorts, t-shirts, and flip-flops, and a job that is about cooking and working with someone I know and respect.   It will not be about the accruals for the winter quarter.  In five days I will be leaving this town.  I couldn't be happier.

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.