Friday, December 31, 2010

plantains gone bananas!

any good chef knows how to cook with plantains. so says Lisa of Top Chef: Chicago. 
I use the bananas out of plantains because they are so plentiful here in Nicaragua (at some point, I'll post my recipe for plantain lasagna). After leaving Granada and the mainland, I’ve been on Little Corn for about 2 weeks. If you were overwhelmed reading about my last post regarding getting products to a small lake resort, multiply it by 5 and you’ve got the jist of getting products to the Caribbean (for example, don’t order papaya, because it smushes all over every other item. fail.). One treat (and source of chaos) is the farm on our property, products that I can get without ordering them 10 days in advance. The most plentiful products are yuca, coconuts, and plantains. I have devised a list of what products we can get, and the grounds crew picks the goods up for us in the morning. 
Pablo and his garden crew help me out by helping to harvest any products I need each morning. Most of the time we can get everything on the list, but it depends on how busy the day is and whether different plants are fruiting. Because some of the guys can’t read, I had to reorganize my list system: the template has pictures of each item as well. The guys pick green plantains by the bunch (day-o?). For this recipe, I ripen them under a towel for a few days and they turn yellow and soft, perfect for dessert!
Chocolate Crisp with Plátano Maduro
Topping:
3/4 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup whole oats
6 Tbs. flour
3 Tbs. cocoa powder
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
pinch of salt
3 ounces of cold butter, cut into cubes
For the filling:
3 cups chopped yellow plantains, boiled until soft
2 Tbs. dark Flor de Caña rum
1 tsp. lime juice
2 Tbs. brown sugar
1 Tbs. flour
pinch of salt
For the topping, combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Using cold fingers or a fork, cut the butter into the dry mixture to create a crumbly mixture with small balls the size of peas. Keep in the refrigerator until ready to use.
For the filling, I used ripe plantains, but they were still a little starchy and raw. I steamed them cut up pieces in a pot with a few inches of water in it until they were bright yellow and soft. Next, combine the cooked plantains with the remaining ingredients and toss well. 
Place filling in a greased baking dish (a 9” round or 3-4 quart pyrex will work just fine). Gently layer the topping over the filling without packing it down. 
Bake in a preheated 350°F oven for about 20 minutes, until topping is dark and crispy. Let cool for 20 minutes before serving.
this recipe is versatile for any tropical fruit. mango season starts soon! *i did not make up the topping for this dessert, it is from a dessert cookbook.
¡Feliz Año Nuevo!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

chapter 2.

accept an executive chef position on a whim and move to Nicaragua. check.

awards night with my kitchen crew
organize a kitchen, learn about national products and cuisine, create seasonal menus, find purveyors, set up a system of purchasing and receiving products, implement hygienic and servesafe procedures, find and train a local staff to cook sophisticated, fine dining cuisine using Nicaraguan ingredients: check.

spend qt with my favorite older brother, Matt... & have some fun: check.

move to a small island in the Nicaraguan caribbean and start again: check. wait, what?

The new gig is an established resort on the island, with great owners and the location is paradise... it will, no doubt, be an adventure. Adios, mainland! hola to this:

Monday, December 13, 2010

one if by land, two if by sea...

On my recent trip back to the US, I realized that I had never really before explained some of the interesting logistics of running a kitchen on an island on Lake Nicaragua.

Hmmm... a big one is limited supplies, planning ahead: for example, we run the range on propane tanks which are monitored based on guest count as well as days passed... it takes about 4 days advanced notice to replace the tanks. I've had a very healthy staff, but if someone goes home sick, it is not as simple as calling a replacement to run in. It involves organizing a taxi to the port & coordinating a boat to come and receive the employee. I bet there are more, but I might be accustomed to them by now, I've forgotten.

Now, I will explain the odyssey it takes to get food out to an island resort in Nicaragua.

detailed schedule of inventory, providers, etc.
 Every Monday I place orders and send a copy of each to reception in the Marina so the receptionist knows what is coming, when, and can check our received goods against what actually arrives. If there is no power in the port (we have a generator on the island), I print the orders out and deliver them with the next boat.

 The easy stuff, actually, is proteins. Fisherman stop by to sells freshly caught guapote and mojarra. We also have a weekly drop off with scaled, gutted fish from a friend of the head of maintenance. I order Pellibüe, the shorn sheep, butchered into primal cuts. This is a verbal order when I see Don Leonel, the marina boat tour captain. I order 3 days in advance and pay in cash. He gets the animal from his neighbor on Zapatera island and then drops it by the staff dock on his way to work at the port. I now give him a cooler with ice as well. The first time he dropped off a freshly butchered animal, still warm, I couldn't stomach butchering it. The freshest I've had, but I do like to handle my meat when it is cold, not body temp.
 I place orders for most dry goods through email, which is great. I have different vendors for bulk, organic, fancy products. The companies that email are easy to understand, reliable and consistent. For the most part, obviously. They drop their goods off in our marina office during office hours, the goods (hopefully) get checked against my order sheet and the receipt, and then sent out to the island with the next boat.
 Dairy: 2 days a week with the first boat leaving the island we send a cooler of ice for the chicken, dairy, beef or herbs that come to the port.
eggs: we've had very few broken eggs. I am so grateful for this. bread gets smushed, so we order shorter baguettes that can fit into the plastic bins.

Twice a week I order goods from the market, as well as include a list to the local grocery store. After a few months, we had desired products down pat, and our taxistas (a husband and wife team) are doing a fabulous job of substituting or omitting items if the first choice was not available. Rice and beans come from the market, not a bulk provider, because "why would we sell rice and beans when you can just get them from the market?" It nice and frustrating to work in a society of content & little competition.

 For produce from the market, Doña Modesta can be reached at one of 3-4 phone numbers. Modesta doesn't have her own phone, so I call all of her friends and family to see if they are nearby to her. Her son will take the order if he picks up, which takes half the time. Quick tip: ask for a half dozen (media docena) each/pounds of an item, because seis and tres (or, in Nica, with no S: sei y tre) are just too similar to the ear, especially the 80? year old ear of my produce vendor, Doña Modesta. Once it is ordered, I confirm with the taxista, and it is picked up, checked and delivered to the port with the next day's afternoon staff!

 Managua: twice a month we send a taxi to the country's capital for Organic Grains, Dried Fruits, Domestic Salamis, Cheeses from the north of the country, and a run to "PriceSmart" (like Costco, complete with chicken bakes!). This involves preordering products 7 days in advance and coordinating a good day with the taxista, who will keep the products cold in his fridge if he can't get back to the port before our last boat.

 Just like in the US, sometimes things don't arrive, or arrive in not so awesome condition, I talk to the chain (vendor, taxista, receptionist, boat driver, kitchen staff who unloads), and we do better the next time.
 this process also involves cash from the accountant, credit slips, facturas; a jumble of finances that would be a blog in itself. but like most of my experiences here in Nicaragua, somehow, it works.

all in a day's work.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

spotlight on: cajetas!

mango, coconut, sweet milk, mystery flavor
Cajetas in some cultures refers to a dessert made from milk (condensed, goat, you name it). In Nicaragua, they are a very Granadino delight... sold year round in individually portioned baggies or on styrofoam variety platters.  The basic gist is that a cajeta must be sweet, but that is about the only rule. Some are in pasty/pudding forms, some are hard as rocks, and some are like sticky caramels. The ingredients are any number of sugars, grated fruits, candied fruits. They often, but not always, have ginger, coconut or milk. Many, many, many are dyed pink with framboise, to make them 'mas alegre!', I think. 

Elsa also gets to wash the burnt pot afterwards
In town, cajetas are not made from scratch, they are mass produced for sale. However, it is rather easy to make certain flavors from scratch, and it's a great way to cook leftovers or pantry items that are soon to spoil (note: not fun to clean up).





I don't particularly crave cajetas on their own, but I have fun discovering local products that I can then showcase in my dishes. In this case, we made basic thumbprint cookies stuffed with my favorite flavor- a soft tamarind/coconut blend- ¡que rico!






Saturday, September 25, 2010

hey, hey, BooBoo! I see a pic-a-nic basket...

I am glad I decided not to pun picnic into picnicaragua. It would have been too much. anyway, it's snacktime! In addition to 3 meals a day, plus bocas, I've designed a picnic lunch for guests that take tours (the most popular is Mombacho Volcano, visible from our private island). 
I've used an American sensibility in creating a picnic with local products to maximize caloric consumption & replenish sugars while hiking around the country.


a few standouts in the picnic:
The hard salami. Serving a hunk of meat with a knife was a new concept for our tour guide, but he jumped on board rather quickly. We get ours, nationally made, from Bavaria Delicatessen in Managua: a German influenced store -I choose to say store, because they don't make sandwiches here, it is more of a meat counter- that sells imported meats & beers as well as those made nationally. They sell the Nicaraguan hard salami as spicy or mild, and sometimes have both in stock. I also use their domestic salami in our breakfast sandwich.


Tropical Dried Fruit Cookie Bars. Sweet and chewy with a crunchy oatmeal topping, these are great for energy when taking a break from a climb to soak in the view of Lake Cocibolca. When I send a car to Manags to get the sausage, I organize to pick up goods from a handful of purveyors out that way, including Naturaleza, which offers natural, unprocessed products and Eastern remedies. We use their brown rice, organic oats, spices and seeds. This recipe also uses dried fruit from Sol-Simple, another one of my favorite local purveyors which solar-dries and hand packs organic fruit. This company focuses on renewable energy: solar energy for food drying, bio-digestation to convert waste material, and electricity powered by used vegetable oil as well as focuses to employ single mothers in marginalized communities. We use their dried fruits, all natural guava pulp (for cocktails) and certified organic cashews. also,
Bah-duhduh-daaaa! I'll be adding recipes to my blog! for example, 

Dried Fruit Cookie Bars

note: normally when I cut butter into a recipe, I will give the visual cue of the butter being mixed in to look like small peas. No one on my staff has eaten, nor seen peas before- so instead, we use the cue of tiny nancite or small baseballs.
for the cookie
2 eggs
3 onces dried pineapple, chopped fine
5 ounces dried banana, chopped fine
2 cups AP flour
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
6 ounces melted butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup white sugar
1 tsp. lime zest
1 tsp. lime juice
for the topping
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup AP flour
3/4 cup whole oats
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
5 ounces cold butter, cut into small cubes
  1. Preheat oven to 325° F. Grease and flour an 11 x 11” baking dish.
  2. Mix together eggs and dried fruit in a small bowl.
  3. Mix together flour, salt and baking soda in a large bowl.
  4. Whip together butter and sugars together in a medium bowl. With a rubber spatula, stir in the egg mixture. Finally, stir into the flour mixture until well incorporated. Spread cookie batter into the prepared dish.
  5. For the topping, mix the brown sugar, flour, oats, salt and cinnamon in a medium bowl. Using a fork, cut in the butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Evenly sprinkle the topping on top of the cookie mixture.
  6. Bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool for 2 hours before cutting and serving.
the smarter than the average bear is going to be dan akroyd with justin timberlake!

Monday, September 20, 2010

captain's log. or should that be captain's blog?

I thought it would be fun to go through our kitchen’s daily log ("bitacora") and share some gems with my blog-munnity. Turns out, many of my entries weren’t that different from things I would have to say to new cooks (or old ones with bad habits) in a kitchen in California (trying to take shortcuts, using less than perfect products (burnt or old)); nothing surprising.


We are the most high-end hotel in the country, and the fact is that the crew I am working with has never worked with such high health codes, standards, timeliness or first-world luxury and service. I’ve gotten so frustrated with the variety and frequency of inconsistencies (from staff and just about everything else), that sometimes, I forget to enjoy my job- I’ve seen this happen with people I’ve worked with and for, especially in kitchens, and it makes me sad- because the only reason to work in a kitchen is because of the fun!
Now, I’ve been pranked in kitchens before (see: knives in block of ice), and done my fair share... Jicaro is no exception:


dishwasher hiding to scare personnel
I know that the team I currently work with in the kitchen tries their best, I try to cool my jets every once in a while. Especially being trapped on this 1/2 acre island, if we don’t have fun, we’ll all go crazy! I learned that pretty early on, and then practiced it long after that.
Our kitchen may have off days, and things may not be exact, but guests all leave very satisfied- mission accomplished (proof at tripadvisor.com).
Still, I think that my favorite bitacora entries were: "do not fill the sink drain with sand."  and, on a loose leaf piece of paper... “Where is the bitacora?”
Sigh, I guess Ziggy said it best: nobody’s perfect.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Hunger Challenge, SF Food Bank

The reason I started this blog a year ago was to document my participation in "The Hunger Challenge," an awareness campaign through the SF Food Bank. Rather than excite you with details of my week of living on $4/day, you can check out last year's blog posts.


Now that I am living in Nicaragua, the second poorest country in the free world (to Haiti), I feel very aware of the poverty line, food availability and nutrition. I don't know a lot of stats or percentages, but I do have a few observations.
Some things I've noticed here;
-street food is not 8 dollar curries, creme brulees, or chili burgers, but instead, carts that serve what people who don't have enough money (to eat in legit restaurants that serve items such as above) can actually afford
-instead of a decaf latte no whip double foam, people here can get coffee in the morning from a street vendor for about 15 cents
-food pyramid is not a priority at all, but getting a full belly is
-husbands and wives (with kids in tow on the bike, of course) bring each other hot food at lunch time (no microwaves or break rooms)
-most of the best foods are homemade (cajuada cheese, beet fresco, fresh fruits)
-there is not the American Dream to get ahead, save money or compete with the neighbors. In fact, entrepreneurship is often explored as a first or even second job, leaving many families without a day off. But, maybe it's the weather, the town, or the fun gossip to hear about, no one seems to mind.


My biggest obstacle last year was eating out and being social in SF during the week of hunger challenge. In Nicaragua this is not a problem: First are outdoor, streetside "Frittangas" that serve meats, gallo pinto, cabbage salads, plantains, and a variety of beverages. You can also grab a Quesillo for 50 cents, by the Merced Church, a local hangout. But, most popular, and most economic, is the rural feel of Granada around dusk, when every family fills the sidewalk outside their door with rocking chairs, to rock and pass the night away, seeing old friends and meeting new.


I recommend to anyone to do the SF hunger challenge for even a day! For more information on this year's challenge, check out:
https://org2.democracyinaction.org/o/5420/content_item/hungerchallenge


A little information on poverty in Nicaragua (as well as skewed politics):
http://www.nicatimes.net/nicaarchive/2010_09/0903101.htm



Thursday, September 9, 2010

the bacon of Nicaraguan cuisine

added to so many things to improve the meal... the secret ingredient: framboise! it is put in to 'enhance' just about anything...
photo by Caroline: thanks! I wasn't in the mood to brave the market with my camera.
iced tea, pineapple husk horchata, desserts, homemade candies, frostings, mystery baggies lining the marketplace, all tinted (or extremely) neon pink. At work, I have to keep it on hand to prevent riots amongst the staff for our homemade frescoes.

For guests, I keep our beverages and desserts natural... for example, much to the dismay of staff, we don't even put sugar in our juices! gasp (sarcasm=high)!

My staff explained to me that the framboise is used for color, not flavor. The tradition is reminiscent of the neon green relish on Chicago hot dogs, or amount of dye put into a southern red velvet cake. For me, besides the alarming color, the flavor of framboise adds a hint of bubblegum/bay that I could do without.

a little more on the fascination with pink down here...
fact: The head of maintenance at work is having a birthday party for his 12 year old daughter, piñata and all! When I asked if there would be many pink decorations, he informed me that only at the 15th birthday is the theme pink.
fact: pink is the new red for the Sandinista political party... apparently, this soft touch is to evoke memories of "Give Peace a Chance" by John Lennon.
fact: click here for more on the bacon of American cuisine

Monday, September 6, 2010

pros/cons

a few of the PROS about living in Granada, Nicaragua:
  • fresh, tropical fruits sold door to door
  • power outages/water shortages teach me to appreciate them much more when I actually have them
  • bike repair done right at home
  • gorgeous lightning storms
There's sometimes an awkward selection at the deceivingly fancy grocery store (yesterday they were out of carrots, limes, cottage cheese and wheat bread). This luxury supermarket has quite a variety, and I am very content with the food I can get here. 

In addition to 'traditional' homesickness for friends, family, leafy greens and non-gamey milk, 

man, do I miss;
(Woodhouse Fish Co. for $1 oysters during my summer visit to SF)

what i would give for 
a good, flavorful beer,
fresh, fresh seafood that can be served raw &
yellow lemons!


Monday, August 30, 2010

montage! we're gonna need a montage!

I can't believe there was a time in my life when I did not make corn** tortillas on a daily basis.***


our fancy tortilla press. that's right; we use an imported baggie! ziploc, available in Managua.
Sandra, amazing kitchen assistant, hard at work, practicing her smile with teeth
tortillas ready for service; huevos rancheros, shrimp tacos... we make smaller ones for quesillo, and tiny ones for bocas with papaya salsa
employee soup; chicken with handfuls of mint, large cut vegetables; served with thick, hearty tortillas
this photo is actually promoting the pair of jeans hanging off the chair in our thatched roof spa
**That is not to insinuate that I was too busy making other types of tortillas, but, rather, to clarify what type of tortillas are most predominant here.
***I can believe it, actually. There were times of sushi, salads, sandwiches on sourdough; foods that I love, that aren't necessarily enhanced by corn flour patties. I miss them.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Hop, Skip and Go Nica!

We're a few months into "winter," the rainy season here, where it thunderstorms at least once a day. I love this time of year: the weather is more fresh, lightning is awesome, and --- Some new fruits just came into season! Have I mentioned how fleeting the seasons are here? They can be as short as 30 days for some produce. But when it rains, it pours (yes, pun very much intended)... every street vendor sells them, by the baggie, most often with vinegar, chile and salt.
nancite; flavored like over-ripe banana/pear
mamones; like astringent, mild lychees











Nancite are tiny, with mostly peel/seed/dry pulp, so there's not much to cook with. Both they and mamones come in bunches too big to finish, so I combined the extra fruit and macerated the mixture with plain white sugar and water. This turned into a thick, sweet syrup. I've had wine made from nancite (very very sweet), which gave me the idea to booze it up!

The first cocktail I made used soda water... but it didn't have a good sweet/bitter balance. It quickly evolved into a beer cocktail! Delicious, refreshing, seasonal!

Nica Rum Shandy

  • 2 ounces Flor de Caña extra lite
  • 1 ounce sour orange juice
  • 2 ounces strained nancite/mamon fresco
  • 4 ounces of Victoria beer

Monday, August 16, 2010

drooling: the unintentional loss of saliva from the mouth




I recently explained the idea of both an urban cougar and a brownie to my staff. This posting will detail the latter. 
Nicaragua has plenty of cookies and cakes (pronounced cake-ay, spelled: queque, which i love). Most are simply sugary and very dry. They are meant to go well with coffee, like a third world biscotti. There are also a handful of desserts that are mixed with dry, salty cheese. To introduce a dense, moist, brownie was a strange, new, yet delicious concept. They fall more on the 'local' side than on the 'light and healthy' side of the restaurant's cuisine.
brownies pose for a glamour shot

The brownie that we now serve as a lunchtime dessert is made with Nicaraguan chocolate, toasted organic cashews and fresh bananas!  These brownies have been a big hit with both staff and guests. 

They are so choice.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

try to keep me out of the kitchen. i dare you.

Today was a good day. Maybe it’s because we have electricity again. Or because we have water again, too. Or because I heard the Macarena and Lady Gaga blasting on my morning run to the lake. Or because I took a morning run to the lake. Or because we have very content guests at the resort, and had some free time for a fun activity while they were on a tour. D) all of the above.


I took my amazing dishwasher (who now makes pastries, and I am teaching her breakfast service), on a walk around the island, a slow, silent walk, to look at our job place from a different perspective. Afterwards, we each returned to a place that we had liked with a pen & paper and had 20 minutes to draw it.
I remembered seeing a bright Heliconias flower amongst our lush green plants, the petals filled with rainwater.

About 15 minutes in, I realized that my blue pen was not capturing the reason why I liked the plant so much: the contrast in colors.

So, back to the kitchen. I rounded up some curry powder and achiote (chile/garlic) paste, and, Voila! made my drawing into a colorful “painting” that smells good enough to eat.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

mindful butchery.

There really isn’t any other way to butcher. A sharp knife, a steady hand, and a clear mind. I adore butchery, unveiling, creating: the first step once meat enters the kitchen. It bums me out when I hear the word ‘butcher’ used like ‘botch;’ there’s a big difference between butchering and just hacking something apart. When I butcher something that takes a while, like a whole Pellibüey, I get into the zone, and because I have bloody-meat hands, I can’t take any calls. It’s wonderful.

Our pellibüe is delivered by Don Leonel, who is also our boat taxista. He now borrows a ice-filled cooler to keep the animal cold after he does his part, because receiving animals so fresh they are still warm is a little too much for me to handle.

I recently spotted Leonel donning silk screened shorts.
The front is Tupac Shakur’s face, and the back a quote from 2Pac’s song, “Reminisce.” It happened to be on a day when I had spent the morning butchering meat, during which my mind wandered. I feel a little nostalgic for times past, and this year, I’ve been thinking about high school. It might be partly influenced that I have my 10 year reunion later this year. But also, when I first had fun slicing away with a sharp knife was my senior year Advanced Anatomy class, spending the entire year dissecting human cadavers. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life at all (do I now?), but I loved dissecting for many of the same reasons that I like spending time on butchery. No, the day will never come that I get human meat (IASIP) prepped to grill, but the physical act of dissecting is not too far from butchery, and I have a great time with it.

Well, thanks, Tupac and Leonel for the inspirational shorts.








pictured: dinner main course; Pellibüey in red mole (spicy, nutty, a little sweet) over chilote cornbread

... and because I can’t let a liver go to waste, coming soon: Pellibüey Pâté!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Thanks for the Valentine, Bourdain.



Definitely a sequel, Medium Raw clarifies some of the brash arguments from Kitchen Confidential.Overall written with great wit, but the scattered flow was a little too dissonant at times. There are some great sensory writings on the diner’s experience.A few of the chapters might lose someone who is not immersed in the underbelly of kitchens.
When I read this book, I wonder what he’d write about me. Why do I care what Anthony Bourdain thinks of me? I don’t know him, I don't want to be like him: get into, be overcome by, and wean off of drugs, end up in a gutter to realize how what I want to do or who I want to be. I have no desire to get hooked on meth, or spend a good portion of my dealing with fryer oil, but I like getting my butt kicked. Bourdain gets that. He delves with curiosity into the separation of levels of cuisine, types of cooks and confusing struggle blending passion with occupation. It sometimes pains him to see the dichotomy between the cook and the client, but acknowledges that is what makes the industry work. He understands that pride and rage can both fester and become exposed in the kitchen, in healthy and unhealthy ways.

I admire and envy him, because through his writing, Bourdain poses many questions that I often think about, and woefully yet willingly accepts that there is no clear answer to any of them.

Although sometimes overly poetic, Bourdain does a great job of explaining that he finally realizes that he doesn't have all the answers, nor is the epitome of anything cooking/eating/foodie/whatever folk want him to be, but is just a dude striving for content and understanding, of himself and the world around him.

Monday, May 24, 2010

let's get physical

There is a Gallo Pinto 15 that no one mentioned to me before I moved down. That, plus my frequent excuses (too hot, too rainy, too tired from work), my exercise regiment is lacking, leaving my physical health in less than pique condition. It's also tricky to be motivated without the external push from others. Let's just say, my coworkers here aren't being mentored while swimming in wetsuits, nor waking up for a 6am spin class. They have clothes to hand-wash, groceries to buy (daily, as not too many people have refrigerators, and they walk to and from the market), and Mass to attend. We are currently in the middle of yet another Saint celebration this week (yay fireworks!), but I digress.

Elman, our head waiter, explained to me the Nicaraguan philosophy on working out. Before I explain it, let me throw out some facts on Elman: pillbury doughboy, loves anything sweet. I had to teach him NOT to put sugar in the juices that we serve to guests. Elman's words of wisdom: I eat a hot soup midday (during 90 degree weather), which makes me sweat. People who exercise sweat. Therefore, I can eat soup instead of exercising. Done and done.

Maybe I will be inspired by my recent viewing of Glee with ONJ and Jane Lynch working out in Let's Get Physical, part duex. To quote Chris Farley, my favorite Gap Girl, "lay off me I'm starving...diet starts monday!"

Friday, May 21, 2010

cheeseburger in paradise (paradiiiiiise)

top 20. no, no bullet point list for this blog. check out the link!
Although we've been using a great local Granada bakery up until now, I am currently training kitchen staff to bake our own burger buns! fyi, the ketchup uses fresh bananas, too.


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

moving forward... baby steps

After about 6 months, I am settling in with the kitchen & staff.

I have only a few more recipes to write (it's been a long list, since dinner varies every night, plus the extra TLC it takes to write a foolproof method in spanish).

I am getting a full kitchen staff (so I can get a day off).

I am getting providers and inventory in line (i can speak with providers on the phone with somewhat ease, and now always have plenty of rice on hand for staff meal to avoid riots).

I am working with staff on sanitation (do not spit on the floor! ever!).

We are also working on routine (not only rotating food and planning ahead, but doing the same work everyday).

also, the food is coming along nicely, as in photo: dinner app. with roasted vegetables, honey from Chacocente and domestic camembert


Different than a restaurant, working at a hotel I get involved with the entire project, not just the kitchen. Example: the other night, I knew that we needed more gasoline for the generator. I spoke with the maintenance employee on duty, and explained;

"Marcos, can you please leave the empty gasoline containers by the stairs to the port so I don't forget them when I leave? That way, I can refill them on the mainland."

-"Okay, Calley."

a while later, Marcos returns. "Calley," he says. "I am a little confused. Do you want the gasoline containers for the generator, or the ones for the small boat?"

Hmm.

"Marcos," I reply, “which containers are empty? the ones for the boat, or the ones for the generator?”

-"The generator, Calley."

"Well, then, I think that it would be best to put those out to be refilled."

"Okay, Calley. Thanks. I was just a little confused."

sigh. "No problem, Marcos."

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A new "fruit?" and a little ink

Presenting, the Guaba!



not to be confused with guava/guayaba, this fruit just came into season! it cost me 3 cordobas, which is about 14 US cents. Oh, man, I can't wait to try it.

um, what part do I eat? I asked the woman who sold it to me, and she said that the most delicious part is the styrofoam-ish case around the shell of the seed. In this photo, you can clearly see 3.

Not delicious. Not really any flavor at all. Kind of like slightly sweet but dried out... packing peanuts? nothing to write home about. and a lot of work to open. what's the draw? I asked around at work, and no one there eats guaba. No known use. I googled it, and found a website that claims "vegetarians eat guaba." But nothing as far as function. I thought about dehydrating, pulverizing, or perhaps frying, but nothing really enhances the flavor.

So, as far as I can tell, the woman in the park probably has a guaba tree in her yard and is scheming to make a quick buck. good luck, lady. it'll take 6 more people as naive as me just to make one.
oh well, it's mango season, too. And I can get those for free off the dozens of trees on my way to work (i now keep floss with me at all time for such occasions).

Also, as noted in our Trivia Night last week, I got some ink in the TACA in-flight magazine. ooooh!
(about halfway down, if you are far too busy to read the whole thing)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Spring Break 2010!

For a short vacation, I recently headed down to the island Ometepe, home to two volcanoes (one active), for a few days off. This island getaway was wonderful. I lounged, horseback rode on the beach, danced with fire nunchucks, helped schoolkids practice english, and created some trails when I got lost meandering around. I also ate some great food.


I ate salad every day, with the most wonderful greens I’ve had since I’ve moved. New to me, and delectable are hibiscus greens, which have a strong berry flavor- great when mixed with the other fresh greens. I’d love to throw them in with goat cheese (available locally) and balsamic vinegar (imported) sometime. yum.


I stayed with Martijn and Patricia, who host the best Pizza Night on the island. They have fresh turmeric growing outside of their living room, which was great! I turned one of the pizzas into a Thai-style calzone; probably the weirdest pizza to hit Pizza Night to date: fresh vegetables and greens with Ometepe banana vinegar, honey and grated turmeric. I feel a little guilty: that orange tint is not coming off the cheese grater any time soon. Thanks for hosting!


The best meals I have had since my move came from “Ometepe Ben’s” new hostel/restaurant: green papaya salad, homemade pasta with eggplant sauce, and leafy greens galore. Plus, he and Sara serve filtered ice. paradise.


I took home some of Ben’s homespun honey, a healthy belly, and the correct spelling and pronounciation of Nicaragua’s prized animal, the shorn sheep: Pellibüey. After trekking down on bus, it was nice to take a cab home.

The video is a small sample of the Wild! spring break that ensued on the rustic island.


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

and when you smile for the camera,

...I know I'll love you better.

It's a sad day. My camera has a "lens error." The manual suggests that I need to go to a Nikon retailer (aka the US), so I am currently camera-less.

this week is Semana Santa! There are Jesus parades everywhere and I can't document them. I tried looking online to find a picture of a similar Jesus parade, but they are all too grandiose. Even the Honduran one. And the crowd gathered around the Granadino Jesus is small and somewhat lackadaisical. And I couldn't find a statue of Jesus that has as much blood or tears as ours here in Granada. it is glorious.

at least now I know why the brass bands have been practicing at 3am for months. I wish I could say that the practice has paid off. A for effort.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

mules.

Thank you so much! Nicaragua has a lot of products, but sometimes, I just need something familiar, healthy, in English, and it is even better when delivered to my door via a friend. My initial bags were packed with bare essential and kitchen supplies. A big thanks to everyone who's trekked through layovers and brought treats!
Now when I am not cooking, I can envelope my senses in the comfort of American English language books and activities to help me unwind.

highlights:
American Snacks! comfort food and snacks- the most being Tasty Bites from Trader Joes- for an easy dinner or lunch, thank you!
Skin Care. This wonderful warm climate is wreaking havoc on my skin.
Books! I got some great reading material and a NYT crossword book!

decent reading materials in English. Thank you!
snacks! and swiss chard seeds! i am going to recruit some help to build a planter.
candy and needles for drawing blood. Each syringe is sealed in plastic- i really understand the importance and rarity of that here. the story is not blog-ppropriate, but, creepy story short, i am in good health. phew. Mego's gift ensures future good health for Nica Kitchen Health Certification Tests (there's a lot of irony in that).

from my parents: tax forms, costco run (tampons are always a welcome gift-not easy to come by here), random clothes. Special Treat- REL's family Christmas card and goat milk soap from Harley Farms!


note for anyone traveling to visit: feel free to bring items to donate to my community! please do not raid my stored clothes for said items. signed, mgmt.

aaaaanyway: a big thanks to: Laura (my first mule), Shanks, Erin! Erin! Mateo, and for the gifts from Megan and Laurel & Mom and Dad, of course!