Driving on Your Own in Costa Rica–Hotel Playa Negra


On March 17, I related the story of having to leave the first hotel in this area after dark with nowhere to go–see first post on driving on your own.  It was not until I awakened the next morning, dressed, and went in search of coffee, that I realized just how lucky we were.  I left my daughter and grandson asleep and ventured toward the restaurant indicated by a small sign.  I had not walked far when this scene greeted my eyes.

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Horses right by the beach.  Perhaps these were the horses one could ride–I had just seen a sign indicating horse back riding was available.  Then I walked a bit further and these scenes welcomed me.

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Except for the two dogs you can see here, no one was at the beach.  The tranquility amazed me.

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I walked back inside the restaurant–here I am standing at its edging looking toward the beach–ordered cafe con leche and luxuriated in our incredibly good karma.  This place exceeded all expectations considering our experience the previous night.

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This photo was taken from the beach looking back at the restaurant.  Except in colder areas like San Jose and Monteverde, I never saw or ate in any enclosed restaurants.  Even the fanciest are open air like this one.  Hotel Playa Negra is the only hotel near Playa Negra next to the beach.  It is a quiet, peaceful place with yoga, horse back riding, surf boarding lessons–the surf here is for beginners.  The restaurant serves a wide variety of food, but since I especially like the typical cuisine, it seemed perfect–more gallo pinto, platanos fritos, cafe con leche.

 

 

Dinner Parties and Commitments


When I committed to writing daily and then blogging, it never occurred to me that this might entail writing in the middle of the night after hosting a dinner party and then cleaning up.  Some people just go to bed and clean up in the morning.  Yuck!!!  Who wants to wake up to a big mess with bits of food solidified to plates and remnants of red wine looking like dried blood in the bottom of wine glasses.  No me.  So here I am fulfilling my commitment to write daily.

Usually, I invite a lot of people over and work like crazy or give up and do potluck. This time I decided on something simple for six friends (three couples).  One friend is a vegetarian so everyone ate vegetarian.  The menu included homemade refried black bean casserole–the favorite of two of these friends.  The recipe for this dish is on a previous blog post.  In honor of my former exchange student son, Gaston Luis Zulaica del Sueldo, I made one of my best salads ever.  When he lived with me, he made salad almost every night, spectacular, colorful salads.  I made a mixture of Jasmine and several other kinds of rice and the following casserole which has no name so guess I will need to invent one.

Vegetarian Casserole with Soyrizo

Pour enough olive oil into the bottom of a heavy casserole dish to cover it.  Thinly slice purple potatoes (I think they are called blue, but they look purple to me), and cover the bottom with a layer of these.  Cover the potatoes with a layer of chopped onions, then a layer of coarsely chopped poblano peppers–I added a few halved and seeded jalapeños.  The next layer is soyrizo crumbled to completely cover the previous layers.  If you are not vegetarian, use chorizo.  Repeat the previous layers.  Combine 3 T of flour and 1 cup milk.  Pour over the top of the casserole.  Bake until the potatoes are done.  You can make all this several hours in advance and pour the milk mixture over it just before it goes in the oven.  I actually used the grill outside on low to bake it this time–warm day and did not want to heat up the house.  We finished off dinner with chocolate chip mint ice cream with Chambord poured over the top.  We also enjoyed a while dessert wine called Electra.

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Salad a la Gaston

 

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Good friends.

 

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Pretty ladies

Holiday Break Fun and Recipes


Because of my job, I am on the last day of a two week holiday break.  What a productive and fun time it has been.  Christmas Eve, my friends, my daughter, and my grandson came over.  For the first time ever, I made ham in a big Crock Pot and it melted in our mouths.  They requested I make my signature Refried Black Bean Cassserole and roasted vegetables so I did.  Other food requests included chocolate spiders for dessert–they are cookies.

Ham in the Crock Pot

Cover the bottom of the slow cooker with a 1/2 inch thick layer of brown or turbinado sugar mixed with 2-3 T tapioca. Place ham on top of the sugar.  Cover the top of the ham with preserves of your choice.  I used homemade pineapple/apricot preserves I had made several years previously.  Cook on low for 6-8 hours.  Note:  I used spiral sliced ham precooked.  You do not need to add any liquid, it will make its own.  If you wish, once some liquid has accumulated, you can periodically baste the ham.

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Christmas Eve dinner, eating and relaxing at the dinner table.

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At the bar before dinner while I am still cooking.

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Lingering and relaxing around the dinner table.

These same friends came over about 1 1/2 weeks later.  The special request that time was for another round of Refried Black Bean Casserole.   This is one of those recipes I invented but never measure anything, just make to taste.  This last time I decided to work at paying attention to what I used so I could share.  It may or may not be exactly what I do every time, but it is close.

Refried Black Bean Casserole

2 cans black beans drained

Enough olive oil to cover bottom of large skillet

1/2 red onion, finely chopped

3-4 Tablespoons organic ketchup

3 Tablespoons cumin–add or subtract to suit you taste

Tortillas

Grated white cheese–I usually use monterey jack

Heat oil in skillet and add onions.  Cook until translucent.  Add black beans, one can at a time.  Take a regular table fork and mash beans repeatedly until most of the beans are mashed–I like to leave some not totally mashed to add a bit of texture.  This is easier to do if you only add one can at a time.  Thoroughly mix beans and onions.  Add the cumin and ketchup and stir thoroughly and keep mixing until the mixture it thick and heated through.  Use a round slow cooker or casserole dish.  Oil bottom of dish and place one tortilla in bottom.  Place enough of the black bean mixture on top to cover the tortilla, then sprinkle the grated white cheese on top.  Repeat layers, ending with grated cheese.  You may use any kind of tortilla.  However, I prefer whole wheat flour, but anything works.  Heat through until cheese is melted.  You may also make the bean mixture a day in advance and refrigerate.  If you do this, it will take longer to heat the casserole.

In between cooking adventures, one of my best friends and I decided to take a quick trip to Albuquerque, NM.  We visited our favorites places in Old Town, ate here and there when we felt like it, and stayed someplace new to both of us, Los Poblanos.  We loved this place.  It is located a bit north of downtown and Old Town, off of Rio Grande Blvd. by the river,  and includes 25 acres of lavender fields, a barn, a solar powered swimming pool–not open in the winter, a restaurant, a farm store, an herb garden, paths for strolling here and there, and an impressive tree lined entry drive.

SAM_1421Looking down the entry drive of Los Poblanos.

SAM_1418The barn and other out buildings.

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The lavender field.  They offer many lavender products in the Farm Store as well as balsamic vinegar, cookbooks, and various other items related to what they grow and organic farming and cooking.

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A view of the main house and restaurant area.

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A view near one of the many walking paths.

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The fireplace in our room.

Although I have been to Old Town in Albuquerque many, many times, never before did I go inside the beautiful old church on the square.  They allow photography so I took a photo.  It was all decorated for Christmas with a nearly life sized nativity scene.

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Tomorrow I go back to work.  With friends coming over for Christmas Eve, a trip to the local museum with my friend Roberto Borja, his family coming over for dinner again, the trip to Albuquerque with my friend Zuriash, hanging out with my daughter and grandson, it turned out to be one of the best holiday breaks ever.  Here’s to an equally wonderful 2014.

Vegetarian Chorizo with Potatoes and Black Beans


    This is a quick, simple recipe.  I served it with a very basic green salad of red lettuce, orange and red bell peppers, and a goat feta cheese.  Rice would make a nice addition as would fried ripe plantains.

6 small (petite) potatoes, diced

6 oz. (1 large link) soy chorizo (I used Soyrizo which is also vegan)

1/2 medium red onion, chopped

1 can black beans

Olive oil

Saute the onion and potatoes in the olive oil until tender.  Remove the chorizo from the package and crumble into the skillet with the onion and potatoes.  Stir into the onion and potato mixture.  Rinse the canned black beans and drain.  Add to the mixture and stir.  When black beans are heated, serve.

The portions in this recipe are easy to multiply to serve more people.

Pura Vida: 2, Comida (Costa Rican food)


Costa Ricans appear to be very, very healthy.  Their food mainly consists of rice, black beans, salad, cooked vegetables, chicken or fish, fruit (usually pineapple, papaya, mangoes) and sometimes fried plantain.  In fact fried plantain was the only fried food, except occasionally cheese.  The food is plain with few spices, even though hot sauce, especially their version of tobasco,  is often available if you want it.  The national dish is gallo pinto:  left over white rice mixed nearly equally with black beans and sometimes a little chopped onion and bell peppers sautéed in oil.  This is a breakfast staple, but frequently served three times a day.  Sometimes, although black beans and rice are usually served at lunch and dinner, they are not mixed together then.  Often salad is their version of cole slaw, but tastes nothing like cole slaw here.  Usually both cabbage and carrots are very finely shredded and mixed together.  I never did quite figure out the dressing, in part because it varied greatly.  When the salad was with lettuce, it was also more finely chopped than we usually do here in the US and served with various dressings including olive oil.  The freshness of the salads stood out–no little bits of brown edges in Costa Rica.

The coffee, well, just lets say, I miss it.  Pitchers of steaming, strong, mountain grown coffee served with pitchers of steaming, rich milk.  In the mountains everywhere Jersey, Guernsey, and Holstein cows roamed up to their tummies in grass.  Happy cows for sure, producing rich milk for coffee and rich white cheese, which is served for breakfast.  Yes, breakfast, sometimes plain and sometimes fried.  Oh, and I cannot forget the ice cream.  Beyond creamy and smooth and rich.

There are sweets, usually made as snacks with coconut especially.  This was my favorite.

Obesity appeared to be non-existent.  I did see a few chubby people but no one really excessively over weight.  Perhaps diet is one reason, but they walk a lot even though most have cars.  They appear to drive them only if going some distance.  In the mountains I saw a lot of people riding horses.

The biggest food adventure for me occurred while waiting around near a little family owned restaurant at the top of a mountain.  All but four of us and the bus driver had gone river rafting.  We disembarked from the bus and walked around to kill time, chit chatting about this and that in Spanish.  Suddenly the restaurant owner came out with his grandson, unlocked the fence gate, and invited us in.  While sitting at the bar conversing with him and Hector, the bus driver, I noticed the menu posted on the wall.  It included huevo de tortuga.  Previous information given to us indicated that Costa Rican law protected turtles (tortugas).  I asked how he could serve this.  He told me it depended on the species of turtle and that he could acquire only a limited amount of them.  Suddenly, in front of me, Lisa, the other woman who did not go rafting and is pregnant, and Hector appeared three glasses that looked like giant, triple sized, shot glasses.  Each one contained a raw turtle egg immersed in red hot sauce the consistency of tobasco sauce.  Instructions and gestures indicated this was to be downed like a shot of tequila.  Lisa stuck her tongue in the sauce and said it was ok.  She downed hers first and said, “This is not all that bad.”  The restaurant owner told her it held great nutrition for her unborn baby.  I translated.  It became very clear to me that I had no choice but to down mine as well.  Hector downed his; then I mine.  Lisa’s assessment was correct; it was ok inspite of the turtle egg feeling like a rather solid but squishy mass as it slid down my throat.  The hot sauce made it possible.  Lisa downed a second one; Hector and I declined.  This experience remains one of the highlights of my trip:  relaxing in the middle of nowhere with a local family in their little restaurant.  Pura vida!!!!