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
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:

A little information on poverty in Nicaragua (as well as skewed politics):

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, piƱata 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


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!