I have a whole new respect for tamales, the traditional treat at Christmas in Costa Rica.  Two friends from my Intercambio de Idioma (language exchange) invited us gringos (and Canadians) to help make their family recipe, Tamales Criollos.

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Florella, Delecta, and Jonathan did lot of the prep. work the day before, including the hand-grinding of yellow corn.  Our job then was to mix it together with pork fat and sour orange juice to make the masa.

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Delecta showed us how.  Her mother taught her this recipe when she was 16 but her own signature addition is a little Achiote paste for color and smoky flavor.

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We formed the masa into 240 balls, bigger than a golf ball, smaller than tennis.  That’s a lot of tamales.

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The ingredients, including pork meat and bacon, carrots, potatoes, rice and sweet pepper, get assembled onto two platano leaves – not banana leaves because they are bitter.

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All of the ingredients go in raw – that’s one of the things that make these tamales  Criollo.

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The packets get folded up and tied into pairs or pinas.

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Jonathan was gracious enough to say that we were quick learners.  He couldn’t believe that most of us had never made tamales before.  We took this as a special complement because Jonathan runs a very good restaurant here, Villa Bosque.

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Then we boiled the pinchos in what can only be called a cauldron, over a wood fire.  sandal works best.  The fire should be very hot with not too much smoke.

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With leaves on the bottom and leaves on the top, plus a lid, the tamales cooked for two hours.

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Taste test proved very successful.  All the flavors had fused together and permeated the masa which was rich and sweet.  Muy rica!

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The family will serve them with coffee to visitors who stop by all day Christmas Eve.  Steve and I will enjoy ours for Christmas breakfast.

insects costa rica

So, I thought this bug was very attractive when it showed up on my door screen the other day.

It’s about the 3″ across.  A moth?  Reminds me of a pair of oak tree helicopters.

wildlife costa rica

I was so surprised to find the next day that it had changed into these beautiful velvety colors.

costa rica insects

And by the third day, I can only surmise that it’s a very short life cycle.

 

clean ocean

All of the broken fans didn’t all end up in the landfill.  Some washed down the river and returned to the beach with the tide.  Trash pick-up in Costa Rica only happens in urban locales.  So, if you don’t have a car, are you going to take it to town on the bus?  Probably not.

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Summer is over here in Costa Rica – usually December through April – and it’s cooled off. Back in November, we saw for the first time an abundance of inexpensive table fans for sale and we all bought them. Expecting a summer hotter and drier than usual, which proved to be true, we out one in every room. Now the season has ended and those cheap fans are dotting the garbage piles in town to be picked up by the trucks Wed. morning and carried off to the land fill. Our own are still working fine but this climate is tough on equipment: humidity and salt air. It begs two questions, “Is cheaper better?” and “Do we have a choice anymore?”

visit playa samara beach

The raging Mala Noche river received a lot of rain last night, a real good soaker.  And this morning it flows for the first time since November.  After the “first flush” the bay is brown with soil eroded from the river banks above.  Not so this morning.

Although it’s unfortunate that a lot of soil is lost in the bay, we take it as a good sign that the ground is saturated with rain water working its way down to the watershed.  In a normal year, we would have two or three flushes by the first of June but after our drought last year, we have a lot of dry earth to soak.

wildlife costa rica

While on our morning walk today, we encountered a beautiful Tarantula crawling up a rock wall.  Suddenly this huge and vicious insect came in and in a bare few moments TOOK HIM OUT.  Wrestled him to the floor, killed him and then flew a way.  Turns out he’s a Tarantula Hawk Wasp and this is his modus operandi.  Sorry the photo is so bad – I guess I was a little shook up.  Nobody gets a free ride, not even Tarantulas.

cashew fruit

Our cashew fruits are ripe on the tree.  About the size and shape of a small apple, this juicy fruit is called Maranon in Costa Rica – the n needs a tilde but I can’t get my keyboard to cooperate.  The fruit is juicy with a lot of texture and the skin is a little waxy.  Makes a great smoothie but I like to eat them fresh.

Each fruit is host to a single cashew nut hanging from the bottom but beware.  An un-informed friend of mine recently tried to eat one raw and broke out into a fiery rash that lasted nearly two weeks.  Don’t try this at home.  The nut is correctly processed through a number of steps including fire to get rid of the skin, shell, and caustic coatings that my friend encountered.  I’m amazed they’re not even more expensive to buy than they are.  Gretchen processed them once and later offered them to us.  “Would you care for ONE cashew?”