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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.

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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?”

In Costa Rica, Spring precedes Winter. We might be seeing right now the first signs of the coming rainy season. Rising humidity – we’ve 4 cloudy starless nights in a row – and precipitation – Tina says it rained the other day in Santo Domingo, just 4 klicks away but I didn’t feel a drop – have encouraged the trees to bloom.

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The Sandal is usually the first and easily recognizable with its clumps of small salmon colored blossoms, possibly my favorite.

a- roble flor  a- roble bark   a- roble blossom

The Roble Sabana – Pink Trumpet tree – comes in white and pink with trumpet flowers on a dark striated bark. I always thought these were two different trees until I took a closer look.

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But a third one, quite rare, had me baffled – bright fuschia. Maybe you’ve seen it on the way to Nicoya, west side of the road.  I can’t find it in any of Steve’s books.

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Closer examination solved the mystery, I think.

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It’s actually a Verenero – Bougainvillea vine – wrapped around an Indio Desnudo – Naked Indian tree. Huh?!

The other surprise is that all of these trees, that usually come into flower in succession over the Spring weeks, are all blooming at once this year. Even the bright yellow Cortez Amarrillo – Yellow Cortez – and the flaming red Malinche – Poinciana – have open flowers right now. What does that portend for our coming Invierno – Winter?

samara cleanup

It seems like everyone was involved in last Saturday’s cleanup of the village of El Torito and Playa Carrillo. Busloads of volunteers from UNA (Univerisida Nacional de Costa Rica) and Florida (our local bottler) collected trash and garbage from roadsides and yards. The idea is to eliminate places for standing water and breeding potential for mosquitos.

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The volunteers and staff came back on Monday to continue their work in Sámara. Garbage trucks from the Municipalidad hauled it all away. This is what a “national emergency” looks like in Costa Rica: funds for equipment, gasoline, lunch, garbage bags and gloves.

And lots of volunteers.

Thank-you to all who helped.

Buche de Noele

Buche de Noel

My Steve was born on Christmas Day and since I love all things French, I decide long ago that his birthday cake would be a Buche de Noel – his middle name is even Noel. I don’t think I ever asked him if there was some other kind of cake he preferred or even if he liked chocolate cake. A buche it is.
When we lived up north, I had a several successful attempts. Over the years, I’ve learned to make an acceptable genoise and a pretty good ganache. Whipped cream, butter, and dark chocolate, how can you go wrong?  I’ve even carried the cake to other family members’ homes with few problems.
But baking in Costa Rica is a whole different animal.  First, there’s no such thing here as “heavy” cream for whipping. There’s only ultra-processed cream-like liquid in a tetra pak.  I don’t think it has any butter fat in it. I do my best by getting it really cold.  I even chill the metal bowl and the beaters. But it’s 85 degrees in my kitchen on Christmas Day and nothing stays cold for long.  With the oven on, I just have to take my pants off, wishing I was 25 again and that someone might appreciate this view.  Every year, as I struggle to get the mousse to firm up and the ganache to stay on the rolled cake, I beg to Steve to shoot me if I even threaten to try it again next year.

Mine didn't even look this good.

Mine didn’t even look this good.

Yesterday, we rigged up a support system of ice and wedges in the Styrofoam cooler – pre-chilled, of course – to transport what should be a simple dessert to the dinner venue.  I cringed with shame as I set the mess on the table in front of my friends. But after tasting it, they raved and begged me to make it again next year.  Really, how can you go wrong with dark chocolate, butter and cream?  Maybe I’ll just put it in a bowl next year with a dozen spoons for passing.