Food is a huge part of life at the Ranch. Two to four people are in the kitchen pretty much non-stop from 9 am til 7 pm cooking all our meals. Us interns take three 3-5 hour cooking shifts per week and four dishes shifts. Sometimes when you’re on dinner shift, Kattia and Laura, our hired cooks from town, have the menu planned and tell you what to chop and when to chop it. Other times, inexplicably, you’re the one in charge of telling them! Such was the case this Tuesday—Shrove or Fat Tuesday. In honor of the day before Lent, I decided to cook a feast (some of your eyes are widening, I’m sure). After consulting dozens of moldy cookbooks (paper products fail miserably in the humidity) and with Laura’s help, we pulled it off! The spread included spicy Mexican Showboat Huevos Diablos (deviled eggs), salad with honey mustard dressing, and bammy cakes (pulverized yucca and onion fried both sides in a skillet) with an array of toppings including dill mayo, marinated tomatoes and jam. Everything was a completely made from scratch hit—and I enjoyed every minute of the cooking! What a surprise. For dessert, Anne and Carolyn made us almond macaroon bars, two of which contained a lucky metal washer. The recipient would get special good luck during the Lenten season for all their personal growth resolutions. Sam found the first macaroon washer, but the second was MIA and with only four bars left, Anne was sure she’d just galvanized someone’s intestines. Luckily Nicole raised her washer in triumph just as we were about to express concern.
Cooking at the Ranch is just plain different—both because we’re in the tropics and because we strive for a whole food, healthy, vegeterian diet. Because we’re in Costa Rica, I daily enjoy fruits like papayas, pineapple, starfruit, custard fruit [in picture above] and guadabana, starchy potato subsititues like choites and yucca, and ¨tipica¨ dishes like empanadas (corn flour half circle pies filled with beans, cheese, etc.), tortillas, fruit and tomato salsas, pinto (rice and beans), and fried plantains. When I say whole foods, I mean fresh, as in, beans dried on tarps in our neighbor’s front yard and brought to our door, bananas and starfruit cut down from behind the Hankey where I live, cheese and milk from down the road, and pestos and salsas made from the cilantro, basil, tomatillos and cherry tomatoes in our garden out front. All of the food not from the garden comes from within a 200 mile radius of the Ranch. There’s actually a coffee farmer near Puriscal who grows coffee solely for the Ranch…yup, we’re addicted. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a can of food around this place, except on sushi night when someone found an ancient can of tuna and put it on the table as a garnish just to freak us out.
There are other strange and wonderful things we do here at the Ranch kitchen. Since butter is so expensive, we use margarine but first heat it in a skillet first to separate the ¨ghee¨ from the harmful byproducts of poor quality fats like margarine. Then we use the ghee like butter. Refined sugar is also very expensive, so we use tapa dulce, which is the purest part of the sugar cane and comes in patties wrapped in banana leaves. We boil them down with a little water until they become a lovely sweet syrup. This makes baking quite different since all our sugar is in liquid form. Also a staple at the Ranch is keifer, which is similar to yogurt. We simply have the keifer ¨bug¨, a cottage cheese consistency bacteria, in a gallon glass jar, and each day we add lukewarm milk, cover tightly with a cloth, and wait til morning, when it becomes a yogurty consistency with even more beneficial bacteria than yogurt. It´s magic! It´s also got that fermented kick to it which makes it a bit of an adjustment, but soon you´re addicted to your fruit, granola and keifer parfait in the mornings.
That´s all from me and the kitchen. An update is coming soon on how the project at Anna and Juan´s went, and most likely something about the baile we´re having tonight. Much love to all of you!