Costa Rica Adventure, Day Five–Part Two: Santa Anita Rainforest Ranch


After visiting the Tony’s gallery, we headed north on mostly non-paved, narrow roads.  The clouds increased; the landscape became greener if that is possible.  We crossed to the Caribbean side near the Nicaraguan border.

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The previous photos were taken from the bus window on the way to La Anita which is located more or less just above where the a is located in the word Cordillera at the top of the map.  It lies near Rincon de la Vieja National Park (Volcano Vieja) past Volcano Miravalles–the volcano covered in clouds in the previous Costa Rica post.

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As soon as we arrived, we came to the veranda of the building where they process cacao.  This view overlooks the road in and a small pond.

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Ginger plants in front of the pond, bouquets of ginger flowers, and rain clouds greeted us.

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I had no idea that the ginger roots we eat come from plants that look like this.  We later ate lunch in the building in the distance.  First, seated on picnic tables on the veranda, we drank pure chocolate grown on the ranch and coffee grown on another property at higher altitudes.  Cacao requires lots of rain and tropical heat.  This coffee is shade grown at much higher altitudes, e.g. 1500-2000 meters, by 700 families who belong to the cooperative which produces the coffee.  The coffee from here (Finca la Anita, Costa Rican Dota Mountain Coffee) requires much less sugar even for those who love lots of sugar in their coffee.

The couple who own and run La Anita primarily grow organic cacao.  Originally, they sold what they grew and did not process it there.  They decided to accomplish what they wanted, to grow and sell the most sustainable quality chocolate in the world, they would have to control the entire process themselves.  One of their specialties is a healthy replacement for Nutella, La Anita Chocolate Spread.  We bought four little containers and carried them around the rest of the trip.  Rather than spreading it on something, I keep it in the refrigerator and spoon out a tiny sco0p when I want a super treat.

 

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Nearly constant rain and heat produce a botanical heaven.

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A tractor pulled wagon took us through the lushness to the area with the cacao trees grow.

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We finally arrived where the cacao grows.

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In addition to cacao, they grow other crops because cacao takes a long time to grow and the chocolate market worldwide is very unstable.

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Open up cacao and you find all this fuzzy stuff inside.  Yes, it is actually tasty.  Like with coffee, you eat–actually mostly just suck on it–the outside.  The bean is the seed inside.

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If you want to walk around here, sandals are not a good idea–too many snakes, many of which are poisonous like the fer-de-lance.  Yes, they live here.  Like where I live, this requires looking at the ground and paying attention where you are walking. This is the owner.  The name La Anita comes from his wife.IMG_2023

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The view of the lake from the building where we ate lunch.

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This is the hearts of palm plant which shortly after this photo was taken became the main ingredient of ceviche of hearts of palm which we ate for lunch.

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Making ceviche of hearts of palm in the white square bowl.

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After lunch I walked down the road to the pasture with the horses.  In the background are cabins they rent.  From here the traveler can tour several national parks including Rincon de la Vieja National Park which is quite close.

This is one of the rainiest parts of Costa Rica, located on the northern Caribbean side.  It rained several times while we were here.  The rain stops for a while, a downpours arrives, it stops.  This process continually repeats.

 

 

 

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.

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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.