Do you miss this as much as I do?

I know, I know. There’s nothing to stop me from putting beans, rice, and the other components of a Costa Rican casado on my plate at midday.

But I just don’t. While the venerable olla de carne, picadillos galore, and homemade tortillas are all in rotation in my lockdown home, the casado remains, for me, a dish to be eaten at a soda for a workday lunch, or at a roadside restaurant when I’m traveling. Rice and beans: every week. But rice, beans and all the fixins’, down to the perfectly caramelized plantain and a dollop of ensalada rusa, is something I’ve really missed during this stay-at-home phase.

Do you feel the same? Or do you serve up casados at home on the regular? Let me know. Maybe I can get myself motivated (and set up for some mid-afternoon naps).

Featured image from user Esdelval via Shutterstock.

I’m a writer in San José, Costa Rica, on a year-long quest to share daily posts on inspiring people, places and ideas from my adopted home as a kind of tonic during a rough time in the world. Sign up (top right of this page) to receive a little dose of inspiration every weekday in your mailbox; tell a friend; check out past posts; learn how to join my Overwhelmed Writers’ League, every Saturday at 1 pm EST; and please connect with me on Instagram or FacebookTo learn more about how to support Costa Rica during the crisis, visit my COVID-19 section – or for ways to enjoy Costa Rica from afar, visit Virtual Costa Rica.

Breakfast in Costa Rica, part II: Links and recipes

Yesterday’s live chat focused on breakfast, and I heard (during and afterwards) so many comments, ideas and tips that I decided to do a whole separate post about them all.

As I said in the video, I’ve recently realized that Global Crisis 2020 is – for those of us lucky to be at home – the perfect time to have some comforting Costa Rican breakfasts. They are cheap as hell, hearty and nutritious (depending on how you prepare them), and they’re a great way to reconnect with Costa Rica if you’re out of the country and feeling nostalgic. Talking about food was also a great excuse to discuss some of the amazing food security efforts happening in Costa Rica to enfront the massive threat of hunger right now. Here are some of the things we discussed, with links:

  • Gallo pinto: There are as many recipes for the Costa Rican breakfast staple as there are Costa Ricans, but I like this one because it also includes a recipe for “Almost Salsa Lizano,” if you don’t have any. What’s your favorite?
  • Tortillas: I was taught to make corn tortillas by Green Communities host mothers in Los Santos in Februar, after more than 15 years living in Costa Rica! Gulp. I feel virtuous if I have any part of making tortillas from instant masa harina, but I’ve recently been reading about the joys of grinding your own masa. (Maybe someday.) This site is one of many that walks you through the process. All you need is masa harina and water; you can also add a little cheese to the masa for absolutely delicious results.
  • Ripe plantains in a sweet cinnamon sauce: Alejandro Zúñiga mentioned this and I was instantly obsessed. I request that he provide more information ASAP.
  • Chilera: Putting some spicy pickled veggies on your Costa Rican classics or any savory breakfast dish will make your day better. Throwing together a chilera is also a go-to task for me when I want to feel like a domestic goddess without actually doing anything difficult. Here’s a piece I once edited with a detailed recipe, and a pic of my own chilera.
  • Favorite breakfast spots: Costa Rica Daily Boost readers shared their favorite Costa Rican breakfast spots including Soda Garabito in Jacó, El Fogón in Atenas, Casitas Tenorio B&B in Bijagua, Sibú Chocolate in San Isidro de Heredia, and Franco in Barrio Escalante. I can’t wait to get back to these spots in the future.
  • Hunger relief in Drake Bay: With tourism suspended in Costa Rica, a lot of families have seen their incomes drop to zero, and hunger is one of the biggest problems the country is facing. I shouted out two places where I, coincidentally, love to eat breakfast, and that are doing good things to help people have a meal. One is La Paloma Lodge in Drake Bay, on the Osa Peninsula, which is asking its former guests to contribute to the Drake Bay Emergency Fund. This fund has been set up by Ann Becker of Travel with Ann and Amigos of Costa Rica, working with AGUINADRA, the Drake Bay Guides’ Association. Donations to the fund will feed families that have spent decades building up sustainable tourism as their sole source of support. Learn more and contribute here.
  • Hunger relief for the homeless: FInally, I thanked De la Mano con la Calle and the Soda Tapia, a San José breakfast go-to that is working with De la Mano to provide hot meals to the homeless. You can also contribute to this effort through Amigos. Learn more here.

I am sending my best wishes for good meals and health, to you and yours.

I’m a writer in San José, Costa Rica, on a year-long quest to share daily posts on inspiring people, places and ideas from my adopted home as a kind of tonic during a rough time in the world. Sign up (top right of this page) to receive a little dose of inspiration every weekday in your mailbox; tell a friend; check out past posts; and please connect with me on Instagram or FacebookIf you want to learn more about how to support Costa Rica during the crisis, visit my COVID-19 section, updated regularly – or for ways to enjoy Costa Rica from afar, visit Virtual Costa Rica.

Breakfast in Costa Rica, part I: Daily Boost Live

Today’s Boost was live, once again, and we discussed all things BREAKFAST! Thanks to all those who tuned in. We talked about gallo pinto, tortillas, and some amazing efforts to support people in Costa Rica who don’t have enough to eat right now. Tomorrow I’ll share some links to more information on all of the above!

 

The art of food

If you’ve driven into San José from the east or wandered the mean streets of Barrio California, you’ve definitely seen Quiero Más, the artesanal pasta shop with a portly man on the sign. We stopped in yesterday during a walk, and I was reminded of what it’s like to buy food from someone who is truly passionate about it. A food nerd, if you well. A food artist.

As I walked up to the counter in the tiny shop, my husband had asked for some fresh ravioli stuffed with spinach and ricotta cheese, and he was already deep into a conversation with the friendly don Luis, who was listening to my husband’s plans for the ravioli and offering additional ideas. “I’m just giving you alternatives,” he said, careful not to step on a customer’s culinary toes. “But if you put them in soup, ahhh, the flour in the ravioli thickens the broth and…” His smile finished his sentence for him. He happily showed us the empanada wrappers he sells – I learned a new word, tapas, the squares of pastry dough you can buy fresh and then just spoon in your filling – as well as the spinach lasagna noodles, the ribbons of tagliatelle. The list goes on.

Don Luis wrapped up the ravioli in paper, as carefully as if they were a Christmas present. Because of this, we received it reverently and carried it with great care through the rest of our day, even though normally pasta is something we would sling into a supermarket cart and then onto a pantry shelf. It was the same feeling you get when you leave a farmer’s market bearing tomorrow’s papaya like a treasure.

I’ll be back to Quiero Más, because, well, I want more. So should you, if you live around here and love pasta. But my visit also reminded me of something bigger: that while some of us are trying to go back to small, simple, homemade and local, there are people like the folks at Quiero Más who never left. Here’s to all the people who were on the train of small family businesses, artisanal food processes, organic ingredients and exquisite specificity, long before the rest of us emerged from globalized superstores craving exactly those things.  Here’s to shops like this one that have somehow kept their doors open through decades of change, recessions and crises, and the crime spoken to by the barbed wire above the door. Here’s to the don Luises of the world who transform our dinner into an experience that shapes our whole day – conoisseurs of the art of food.

I’m a writer in San José, Costa Rica, on a year-long quest to share daily posts on inspiring people, places and ideas from my adopted home as a kind of tonic during a rough time in the world. Sign up (top right of this page) to receive a little dose of inspiration every weekday in your mailbox; tell a friend; check out past posts; and please connect with me on Instagram or Facebook! You can also find me churning out small, square poems on any topic under the sun (here on the site, on Instagram or Twitter). 

 

 

Day 48: All the world needs now is pinto

It’s a scientific fact: you can’t have a really bad day if you start it with gallo pinto.

I’ve had some bad days during which I’ve eaten a casado or a chifrijo or even delicious fresh fruit. But there’s something about magic about Costa Rica’s national breakfast dish. I ate it pretty much ever morning when I was an intern at La Nación and the lucky recipient of doña Hannia’s formidable cooking skills at my homestay, and that was just maybe the best summer of my life. Now, I eat it just rarely enough that it always feels special: I’m out of town, or it’s one of those mornings when my husband declares, “I’m going to make pinto.”

You need leftover rice. Many people over the years have explained to me that it is a Cardinal Sin to make fresh rice and then put it straight into pinto, because it’s not firm enough and won’t be able to absorb the flavors without getting mushy. You also need black beans, onion, sweet peppers, salt, pepper, cumin and, unless you hate it, culantro.

And Salsa Lizano. It really isn’t true that ticos “put it on everything,” but you definitely need it for pinto, both in the dish and then on hand in case it needs a little more on the plate. (Anyone have a favorite recipe? I looked but honestly got overwhelmed. There are a lot of techniques out there.)

You can fry gallo pinto in lots of fat, cover it in natilla and surround it with bacon or other heavy foods, but pinto itself is perfectly light and nutritious, so it does belong on a Wellness Wednesday. As we enter the season of a slightly slower pace and more festive feel, I’m going to aim to eat pinto just a bit more often. It’s almost the time of year when we get to ease up on our mornings just a touch, sip that coffee a little longer, and look forward to a day that has already been blessed by the best breakfast on the planet.

I’m a writer in San José, Costa Rica, on a year-long quest to share daily posts on inspiring people, places and ideas from my adopted home as a kind of tonic during a rough time in the world. Sign up (top right of this page) to receive a little dose of inspiration every weekday in your mailbox; tell a friend; check out past posts; and please connect with me on Instagram or Facebook! You can also find me churning out small, square poems on any topic under the sun (here on the site, on Instagram or Twitter). 

Day 23: The toad water of your dreams

If I had to choose one food to take to a desert island, it’d be an avocado. If I had to choose one to replace half of my medicine cabinet, it’d probably be ginger. Hot, cold, candied, pickled, grated or trying unsuccessfully to blend in at the edges of a jam or sauce – I’ve seen time and time again how ginger can cut through a woolly throat, clear everything out and just generally do you all kinds of good.

That’s why I’m obsessed with agua de sapo, a drink I love at any time of the year but that comes to my mind particularly in October, for two reasons. One is that this is one of the most beautiful times of year in Costa Rica’s Caribbean, the region that has created much of Costa Rica’s most delicious food, including this drink. And another is that the heavy rains in other parts of the country mean that you find yourself reaching for the ginger. A potent mix of ginger, lemon and tapa dulce, or unrefined whole cane sugar, a good agua de sapo should widen your eyes a little bit with that first spicy sip.

I’ve never made it at home, and no, I was not sufficiently organized to try it out before writing this post – you’ve probably realized this by now, but I generally need to write myself into doing things, which is why this project exists – but I will do it and report back. I found a few different recipes online including the news that most people cook it to dissolve the sugar, while others just whack it all in a blender, but the one that made the most sense to me is the one below. It makes a massive amount, but I have a feeling that frozen cubes of agua de sapo would be delightful to have on hand – to cool down a Moscow mule or a ginger beer or ginger ale, or added to a smoothie or juice where you would use ginger.

Have you made agua de sapo? Does thinking about Costa Rican Caribbean food make you drool? Let me know.

Here’s the recipe from Cocina Costarricense:

1 gallon of water
1 tapa de dulce (apparently this can be found as “panela” in other countries – and I would think you should be able to substitute brown sugar. I’m not sure how much loose sugar you’d want to add, but I assume less is more, as you can always add more sugar to the warm mixture at the end.
250 g fresh ginger
1 cup freshly squeezed lime juice

Peel, chop and crush the ginger; chop the tapa de dulce into chunks. Add both to 1 liter of water and boil until the sugar is completely dissolved. Cool and strain, then add the lime juice and serve iced.

I’m a writer in San José, Costa Rica, on a year-long quest to share daily posts on inspiring people, places and ideas from my adopted home as a kind of tonic during a rough time in the world. Sign up (top right of this page) to receive a little dose of inspiration every weekday in your mailbox; tell a friend; check out past posts; and please connect with me on Instagram or Facebook! You can also find me churning out small, square poems on any topic under the sun (here on the site, on Instagram or Twitter). 

Day 13: Comfort by the bowlful

Olla de carne, Costa Rica

Do you have a love for a certain dish that is driven more by nostalgia, or by what the dish represents, than the food itself? Costa Rica’s olla de carne is that dish for me, without question. I wouldn’t order it as my final meal on death row, nor would I tell a tourist that they must not leave the country without sampling it. And yet, on a rainy October day like this one, coming home to a pot full of the hearty soup brings me a full-body shiver of delight. There’s just nothing cozier – and I’m from New England, people. I know from cozy.

The love of this dish is contagious, you see. I’ve absorbed many Costa Ricans’ passion for this simple recipe over the years. I’ve known vegetarians who make this their one exception, digging into a diabolically tender morsel of fatty short rib with glee (“because you just can’t not eat olla de carne!”) . I have a husband who will fast in order to be able to eat as much olla de carne as possible from the vat that passes as a soup tureen at El Rancho del Sapito in Coliblanco de Cartago – highly recommended. Put this dish on the menu and eyes will light right up.

There are surely as many recipes as there are Costa Rican home cooks, but the procedure is fairly simple – though I can feel the spirits of great-great-grandmothers scowling down on me in preparation for the the travesties I am surely about to commit. You just cook all of the ingredients in water, starting with a mix of lean beef and short ribs to make a hearty stock, then adding the vegetables, starting with the ones that need the most cooking time. The vegetables and their order of essential-ness are worth a good long conversation, but will include some combination of carrots, yuca, potatoes, green plantain, corn on the cob, tiquisque, onions… (Pause for lightning to strike.) Here’s a recipe in Spanish that I’m fond of because it instructs the reader that this dish is to be eaten “at least once a week,” and one in English from My Tan Feet.

Speaking of lightning, you really, really want to eat this one in the rain. With white rice. And a good chilera. And the spirits of all those great-great-grandmothers. Because with every slurp of olla de carne – “‘coma, coma!” – you can feel them wishing you well.

How do you make olla de carne? What’s your favorite Costa Rican soup? Let me know, quick, before the rainy season ends!

I’m a writer in San José, Costa Rica, on a year-long quest to share daily posts on inspiring people, places and ideas from my adopted home as a kind of tonic during a rough time in the world. Sign up (top right of this page) to receive a little dose of inspiration every weekday in your mailbox; tell a friend; check out past posts; and please connect with me on Instagram or Facebook!