Search This Blog

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Tamale Cooking Lesson

On Sunday, December 15, 2013, a small group of expats met at a house in San Isidro for tamale cooking lessons. Our teachers were the wonderful women of the Asociacion de Mujeres Artesanas de San Isidro de Atenas (AMASIA) or the Atenas San Isidro Craftswomen Association.

At 9:00 am, we met at Carmen Campos' house, decorated outside for Christmas, complete with Christmas tree and a large creche. The house has two kitchens, one of which is a large work area at the back of the house, with a wood burning stove. One door led to an outdoor area that was filled with orchids. This kitchen is where the enormous cooking pots are kept, hanging on the walls, and other supplies on shelves and in cabinets.

We were out in the country and the houses get their water from wells, I believe. Repairs were being done and there was no water in the house we were in. No problem - everyone grabbed a container and we walked down the road to a neighbor's house and filled up there. Eventually the water came back on and we were in business.

All the supplies were laid out on two large work tables. In Costa Rica, tamales consist of corn masa, or dough, stuffed with beans, pork or other fillings. They are cooked in banana leaves but I was told they are not regular banana or plantain leaves. The leaves are cleaned and then wafted over a fire to soften them.

Making tamales is not fast, and a lot of work is involved. An entire family can be involved in making Christmas tamales, sometimes several hundred or more. The custom is to offer friends and families tamales as a personal gift. It's a wonderful present when you realize how much work and time went into making them and they taste delicious.

The wood in the stove was burning and we set to work chopping onions, garlic, red bell peppers, carrots, etc. The masa (dough) was prepared and this step is a long one. There was so much activity going on that I am not sure if I have the sequences right. Rice was cooking in a rice cooker, along with different spices, and then I believe all of it was put in a blender, and finally mixed in with the masa.

Partway through the proceedings, Costa Rican coffee was made for us in the traditional way, using a chorreador ("little bag"), a device in which hot water seeps slowly through coffee grounds held in the cloth filter which is mounted on a wooden stand and the coffee drips into a container. It was wonderful, strong and hot. The ladies had also baked fresh bread. I can't think of a better combination.

Meat had been prepared for the filling and it was so good. The gravy was delicious. Eventually, it was time to make our tamales. The banana leaves had been cut into squares, one about 10x10" and the other about 16"x16". The large square goes on the bottom and the small one on top with the ribs running in opposite directions. A small ball of masa is placed in the center of the small leaf, then we pressed in a piece of pork, a piece of red pepper, carrot, etc. You can also add prunes, chickpeas, green olives, peas - whatever you like.

Then we folded the leaves over the filling - and there is a special method of doing this so the contents are safely sealed inside. A second tamale was prepared the same way and the two tied together with string. Two tamales tied together are known as a piña. When they were all wrapped, into two huge pots the tamales went. Wood was constantly being added to the fire. Uncut banana leaves were used as lids for the pots. What a good idea I thought.

A thunderstorm came up while the tamales were cooking and it was nice watching the torrential rain while safe and dry in a cozy kitchen with the burning wood snapping and crackling. The Ticas were so much fun, lots of laughing. I couldn't understand a whole lot but easy to figure out what is going on.

Each of us went home with four tamales (or two piñas). What a wonderful way to learn some Costa Rican culture and thank you, ladies, for inviting us.



Saturday, December 14, 2013

Colors of Costa Rica

This is my latest painting, "Colores de Costa Rica"/"Colors of Costa Rica". This ox was part of a team participating in Atenas' annual oxcart parade.

The team was beautifully turned out, with beribboned oiled horns and ribbons around their midriffs. The ribbons are Costa Rica's national colors.

This painting was done in acrylic paint, on gallery wrapped canvas, size 15"x20". Other examples of my horse and cattle art can be seen here.


Saturday, December 7, 2013

Beach Day

On Tuesday of this week, December 3, 2013, a group of us from the Atenas and San Ramon areas of the Central Valley met at Playa Doña Ana, 10 km south of Puntarenas at the mouth of River Canyon on the Gulf of Nicoya.

Playa Doña Ana is a black sand beach (volcanic sand) protected by the ICT (Costa Rica Institute of Tourism). It has been awarded an Ecological Blue Flag by Costa Rica's National Blue Flag Commission. This is an annual certification awarded to communities scoring a minimum of 90% for all requirements: ocean water quality; quality of potable water; quality of coastal sanitation areas; coastal garbage and garbage containers; treated industrial waste; treated runoff water; environmental education; security and administration.

There is a nominal charge to enter, with plenty of parking outside the gates. There are showers, washrooms, change rooms, BBQ's, and covered and uncovered picnic tables. There is now also a restaurant but I do not know their hours of operation or if they are only open for special events. We always bring our own food and drinks so have not tried it.

One thing I like about this beach is that it is a Tico beach. We get to mingle with the Costa Ricans, who come here with their families. On this day, there was a Pops ice cream company picnic, with 72 people attending. Lance heard the number being counted off as he was waiting to pay our entry fees. So there were a lot of people at the beach, but still it was not crowded and not very noisy.

The resident white-throated capuchin monkeys are usually visible and will readily come part way down the trees for bananas. Please don't feed them anything else. I've seen junk food being offered.

Playa Doña Ana was the first Costa Rican beach we went to after moving here. I remember being so amazed, seeing the Pacific Ocean this far south, the waving palms, the tropical breezes, and then floating in the warm, salty water. Overhead flew flocks of brown pelicans and large seabirds (frigatebirds?) massing on the cliffs.


Sunday, December 1, 2013

Photo of Jorge

Yesterday, I could not get this photo to load. Today, it loads! I really like this photo because it was so spontaneous.



Saturday, November 30, 2013

Jorge's Wedding

Recently, we were invited to the wedding of Jorge and Fabiola, held on Saturday, November 23, 2013, at Iglesia Los Angeles, 5:00 pm. Jorge is one of our regular taxi drivers and also our friend.

What to wear? I had brought a navy, silk, sleeveless dress with me when we moved here from British Columbia and had sandals to match. The dress needed a wash and an airing out after having been hanging unused for two years but it was perfect for this occasion.

Lance, too, already had the perfect clothes in his closet - lightweight and light colored trousers and an ivory colored shirt worn untucked, very much like embroidered dress shirts that men wear here for special occasions.

Jorge asked that guests not give presents, but money which was fine with us - made things much easier. An envelope was included with the invitation for this purpose. He has already built his house and will use the money to buy exactly what he and Fabiola want/need.

Jorge and his parents arrived first, as well as three pretty little “bridesmaids” (not sure what they would be called here) and lots of guests. Jorge walked around the church greeting guests, shaking hands, while awaiting his bride. When it was time for him to walk up to the altar, his parents walked on each side of him with firm grips on his elbows. They were followed by the little bridesmaids. There was no best man.

Then Fabiola was walked up the aisle with her parents on either side of her. She looked lovely, in a long, white dress with veil pinned at the back of her hair and trailing behind. At the altar was a bench for Fabiola and Jorge to sit on, decorated with her colours - mauve and white netting. The wedding invitation had a mauve ribbon on it and the lettering was mauve. Our friend and neighbor, Rose Mary, offered me a selection of English wedding cards to choose from and by coincidence one had a bridesmaid wearing a mauve dress so we chose that. She thought they might like to have a wedding card in English and it was a good idea.

There was a singer with a lovely voice. Of course, the service was all in Spanish but we caught a few words here and there. Costa Rica is a Catholic country so obviously this was a Catholic service. We just watched what everyone else was doing and stood and sat down when they did. A Tico acquaintance sitting in front of us helped us out also.

Then they were officially married and so began the “night of the photographs”. Jorge and Fabiola stood patiently while everyone in the church had their picture taken with them. Once that was done, everyone went to “en casa de Familia Castro (Guizaro)” which turned out to be a large, open sided facility obviously built to be used for parties, receptions, etc. We were given a lift by one of Jorge’s family members.

It was beautifully decorated for the reception. There were nine tables and the head table and we reckon there were about 100 people there. There was a DJ, a bubble machine and a smoke machine. We were assigned to table 9, which seemed to consist of a lot of Jorge’s relatives. A fellow sitting across from us spoke some English and he introduced us around. When Fabiola and Jorge arrived, a toast was given, she had a dance with her father (Mario), and Jorge danced with his mother-in-law. Then off the two of them went to spend most of the night having their pictures taken. A wooden swing had been decorated with lights, they sat in it, and the photographer had all his equipment set up.

Appetizers were served to each table. I had a juicy piece of pork on a small corn tortilla and a yuca fry. There was wine for the toast but, after that, most people drank soft drinks or beer. Each table was called in turn to go out to where the happy couple were and, yes, have their picture taken with them! Jorge and Fabiola must have had achingly sore smile muscles the next day.

In the meantime, the guests were enjoying dinner which started with a creamy, squash soup. On the dinner plates were rice, pork, chicken, vegetables and something that tasted a lot like grits. It was good and I would like to know what it was. No dessert was served and there was no wedding cake. We were so full from the meal that anything else was unnecessary.

As people finished eating, they got up to dance, including little kids. Lots of lively, Latin music.

Jorge and Fabiola finally finished with their photos and sat down to have something to eat, this must have been about 9:30 pm. Jorge was still circulating around talking to people and shaking their hands. In Canada, wedding receptions are all about the bride and groom with lots of speeches and toasts. Here, it seemed the reception was to acknowledge the guests and the bride and groom played a secondary, and hard working, role.

We had a wonderful time and felt so special being invited into the Tico community and seeing a part of this country that I think a lot of foreigners are not able to experience. We believe this is because we do not have a car and therefore have always used taxis and the bus system, becoming immersed in the culture.

Here is a video I made of the wedding and reception.



Saturday, November 23, 2013


I made empanadas today for the first time. I know I can buy them made by people who know what they are doing, but I wanted to try making them myself to get a feel for the food of the country we live in.

So I bought a bag of Masa Rica corn flour (harina de maiz) and used the recipe Corn Flour Empanadas from the great little cookbook, Gallito Pinto, Traditional Recipes from Costa Rica, author Andrea Corrales. If you see this cookbook, buy it. She explains the history behind the dishes.

I made a picadillo with carrots, onions, garlic, red bell pepper, fresh cilantro, and Complete Seasoning. This, along with refried black beans, made up the filling. There was enough picadillo left over to have on the side at lunch.

Making up corn flour dough is completely different from using white flour. I needed to add a lot more water to the corn flour then the recipe calls for, in order to make a workable dough. Some time ago, I had bought a wooden press so it was easy to put small fist size pieces of dough into the press to make pancake type empanadas. In went the filling, not too much. Some of the empanadas broke up a bit when I was trying to shape them. We like spicy food, so I added some hot peppers to the mix.

We ate them for snacks around 10:00 am and had the rest of them for lunch .... so I think they were a success and I learned something about the country we currently live in.


Sunday, November 17, 2013

Atenas Art and Craft Show

The first annual Atenas art and craft show was held on November 16, 2013, at El Rincón de Nana. it appeared to be a big success, with many vendors selling quilts, jewlery, cards, handcrafted lamps and tables, and much more.

I was there with a few cattle and horse paintings, plus Christmas cards that I had printed with my own designs. The cards sold well and I received positive feedback on my art. A craft show is not really the right venue for what I do. My market is cattle and horse people.

The lunch selections provided by "Nana" were so good. We had the ham and cheese buns with cold iced tea.

Kudos to the organizers ... great job.



Some of the displays


Some of my work


More of my art


My Christmas cards (thanks to Sean Prynne for permission to use his photograph as the foal model)


Friday, November 15, 2013


We finally went out and bought ourselves a machete complete with leather scabbard.

The scabbard is quite nice, with a tooled oxcart and "Costa Rica" on it. We bought it at Vargas in Atenas, our hardware store.

A neighbor's banana tree fell down into our yard, which prompted us to buy a machete so our gardener could chop it up. In the end, their gardener did the job so our machete still hasn't been used. It needs to be sharpened first anyway. They are sold unsharpened.

Fallen banana tree on the right.


Sunday, November 3, 2013

Goblins At Our Gate

Halloween is not a Costa Rican custom. Instead, mascarada parades are held. You can read all about them here.

November 2nd is the Day of the Dead, or Dia De Los Muertos. Costa Ricans remember their deceased loved ones by visiting cemeteries and decorating the grave sites with flowers and candles. I drove past the Atenas cemetary yesterday and it was crowded with families and flower sellers.

This year on October 31st, friends got together to create a Halloween for two young ladies, one of whom just recently moved to Costa Rica. Since Costa Rican kids do not go trick or treating, the parents of both girls arranged for friends to hand out candy so one of the traditions from home could be carried on here.

The girls came to our gate dressed in their costumes and received their candy loot.

Then up the road they went to the next house, more candy, more photos. The final stop was a good one, because it included cupcakes. Next year, I think I will get dressed up and go along with them so I can get some goodies too.

The Goblins
The Cupcakes



Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Christmas in Costa Rica

I bought a bag of flour in Atenas last week and just today noticed that it has a picture of Santa and one of his reindeer on the bag, as well as Feliz Navidad.

Christmas comes early in Costa Rica!


Saturday, October 26, 2013

We're Invited .....

.... to the wedding of Jorge and Fabiola next month. What an honor to be invited into the Atenas Tico community this way. Jorge has been one of our regular taxi drivers since we moved to Atenas a little over two years ago.

Looking forward to this event very much.


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

First Annual Atenas Art Show

Come and support your local artists! The First Annual Atenas Art Show will be held on Saturday, November 16, 2013, from 9:00 am to 2:00 pm at El Ricón de Nana, Atenas. El Ricón de Nana is situated near Pharmacia Central, 100 meters south and 50 meters east of the Tribunales de Justicia, Atenas.

I will be there with some of my cattle and horse art. I will also have for sale the Atenas tourist map which features on the front one of my paintings of a Costa Rican ox.

There will be many wonderful handmade items to purchase such as recycled/upcycled items, handmade candles, windchimes, tee shirts, home decor items, Christmas cards, mobiles and much more.

In addition, you can try fabulous ice cream concoctions and lunch specials made by "Nana" (Cecilla).

So mark this day on your calendars and come on out and support Atenas' artists.


Saturday, October 19, 2013

Eyes on Costa Rica - Update

This follows my blog entry on June 10, 2013. At that time, more than 60 countries from where people were visiting this blog were identified. The number has now risen to over 80. The newest countries or quasi-countries include Belize, Bermuda, Curaçao, Martinique, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Peru, Armenia, Bulgaria, Ireland, Serbia, Hong Kong, Iraq, South Korea, the Maldives, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka and Tunisia.

In addition, there has been at least one visit from the U.S. Army Post Office (APO) for the Armed Forces Europe, and more from “ - - - ” (no identified place, no identified region, and no identified country).

The mystery of who or what “ - - - ” might be has now been partly solved. In Internet jargon, they are “anonymous proxies” flying or trying to fly under the radar. On the globe which appears in the sidebar of this blog, they are indicated by the red dot which appears at Latitude 0°, Longitude 0° (about 350 miles southeast off the coast of Ghana in the Gulf of Guinea).

Costa Rica is obviously in the eyes of the world.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Fiesta de las Culturas

Today we went to the Atenas Day of Cultures event in our central park. This was organized jointly by the Municipality of Atenas and CATUCA (Cámara de Turismo y Comerciode Atenas) to celebrate the International Day of Cultures.

There was live music and dancing, lots of booths selling different kinds of foods, beautiful hand made belts, jewelry, embroidered linens, Christmas ornaments, orchids, and lots more. We headed right to the Salvadorian pupusa stand for our first snacks.

Pupusas are a traditional Salvadoran food - thick, handmade corn tortillas with fillings usually consisting of quesillo (a soft cheese found throughout Central America), ground pork meat and refried beans and then topped with curtido (lightly fermented cabbage slaw) and a tomato salsa. I could eat one of these every day.

We then moved on to a Tico stand selling strawberries and grapes on a stick and dipped in chocolate. Grapes and chocolate go very well together. Then it was a drink of cas (a fruit, also known as sour guava). To take home, I bought cheese biscuits from a Tico stand, organic dill pickles with garlic from an expat lady, Irish scones made by our very own Marietta Arce (Atenas Today), and two tamales. Someone was selling arroz con leche (rice with milk). Not sure if it this is a type of dessert or a savory. I am proud to say I walked right past the orchid stand and did not stop to buy one.

We ran into lots of friends. The weather was perfect and so was this day. I made a small video of two groups playing music. The first video features a marimba, handcrafted by the man playing it. He named it "Mi Leidy" for his wife whose name was Leidy. She passed away recently. The other video is of three young people playing bluegrass music. The videos are below the photographs.

The pupusa in all it's glory


The lovely lady in the middle is 92 year old Yoshii Sasak. She did all the paintings shown hanging up and wanted all proceeds of sales to go to the Hogar de Vidi, Atenas' home for abandoned/abused children.


The little kid in the plaid shirt could not stop dancing to the music. He was really serious about it.


Marimba band. The fellow on the left side of the tent in the tropical shirt is our local, and very good, jazz musician.


Thursday, October 10, 2013

No Banditos At Our House

These two dogs have chosen to guard our gate tonight. They live somewhere in our area - we heard their owner call one of them once. Dogs in Costa Rica are often allowed to roam loose. On my walks into Atenas, I come upon all manner of pups lolling about in the sun, or going to visit their friends. I recognize lots of them now. They all look well fed. Not a bad life for a doggy.

Yes, there is a somewhat different cultural viewpoint on animals here from what we are used to in North America but we can't bring our prejudices with us when moving to a new country. Besides, we live in a farming community and everyone knows where their meat comes from. There are, thankfully, many volunteer groups and individuals who do care for the abused and abandoned animals here. I always think of how many animals languish in British Columbia shelters waiting for homes and the same is true across Canada. People there still are not neutering and spaying their pets. There is much abuse of animals all around the world.

It exists in the horse racing industry and the horse show world. I suspect it also festers in dog and cat shows, some zoos, circuses. Think about the dairy industry, the poultry, egg, and pork factories - anywhere where humans can exert their power over creatures that have no means to fight back and where consumers think a cut up chicken was created from a plastic covered styrofoam package in a grocery cooler.

So, these two having a nice snooze outside our gate and warning us of any intruders seems okay to me. They'll go home eventually - we hope!



Thursday, October 3, 2013

Stanhopea Orchid

A few months ago, I bought several orchids from a lady who was disposing of her collection. I was told one of them flowered from the bottom, rather then the top. None of the orchids had tags but I recognized a couple, an oncidium for example.

I researched orchids that bloom from the bottom and discovered I had a Stanhopea, a new orchid for me. This species needs lots of water, moving air and bright light but not sun, which can burn the thin leaves. Obviously, this type of orchid cannot flower in a pot, and this one is in a wire hanging basket. The potting material is very loose, consisting of what looks like coco husk fiber and rolled up pieces of periole base from a palm tree frond.

I made some more of the palm base rolls (cut into thin pieces, soaked in water, then shaped into a loose roll) and topped up the basket. We hung the basket under the eaves where it gets good morning light. I fertilize all my orchids with Ever Green organic foliar nutrient that can be sprayed on leaves and potting material. Ever Green Fungicida Multiefecto is also a good multi-effect fungicide.

Not long ago, I noticed my Stanhopea had an inflorescence ("flower stem") coming out the bottom of the basket. Since this orchid was not in bloom when I acquired it, and there are approximately 65 species of Stanhopea, 5 natural hybrids, and dozens of man-made hybrids, it was exciting wondering what kind I had.

We watched the daily development of the flowers and recorded them. Yesterday, we woke up to the amazing display of the fully opened flowers and the incredible scent, which was almost overpowering. It drifted into the house all day, a sort of spicy vanilla odor. Stanhopea flowers only last a few days, and today we noticed a slight change from yesterday's robust display, with less scent.

September 30, 2013

The good news is that Stanhopea will consistently produce inflorescences all year if it is healthy and happy, so we have many more spectacular displays to look forward to.

October 2, 2013
October 2, 2013 - the first day the flowers are open.


October 2, 2013 - showing how the inflorescence emerges from the bottom of the basket.


Monday, September 30, 2013

Fresh To Our Gate

A few minutes ago, I heard "beep, beep" at our gate. It was a fellow on a motorbike with a bin on the back. He was selling lettuce and fresh cilantro. He said it was organic. No way of really knowing but doesn't matter to me anyway.

The cilantro, two big bunches, have roots so I've put them in water until I can figure out what to do with them. Perhaps I can freeze or dry the leaves or even try potting the stalks.

I had lettuce on my grocery list so that is one item I can cross off. Saturday, the fish man will be by and I can get sea bass and prawns - small, medium or really large. I like this way of shopping!

Addendum: I neglected to include the price. It was 1,200 colones, or about $2.40 CAD. I don't know what this would cost in different parts of Canada. We like supporting local businesses and having food items delivered to our gate is a huge plus to us.


Saturday, September 28, 2013

Saturday Morning

My wireless keyboard is out for repair and I find it slow going using my iPad on-screen keyboard, so I made a little video the other day of the sights around our house as an easy way to do a blog entry today!



Friday, September 20, 2013


When we moved to Costa Rica from Canada, we brought our then 12 year old cat, Genny, with us. There was no question of not bringing her. When we take on the responsibility of a pet, it's for the life of the animal. We had her shipped professionally, using World Pet Travel. She travelled from Cloverdale, B.C., to Vancouver, B.C., where she overnighted. The next day, she took her first plane trip, travelling to Houston, Texas, where she overnighted again. The following day saw her arrive in Costa Rica, where she was met and delivered to her vet, Hospital Veterinarios Asociados in Santa Ana, for a week of boarding. World Pet Travel professional handlers dealt with Genny at every stop.

We picked her up a week later and we all spent a month at Finca Huetares in Atenas while looking for a more permanent place to live. When we found our current house, she settled in right away and even acquired some animal friends ... Barney the cat and Scruffy the dog.

We knew before coming to Costa Rica that Genny had renal disease, so she was on special renal diet food and we tried to keep her weight down. She had regular exams here, including blood work, x-rays and ultrasound on her kidneys.

On September 5, 2013, the disease finally took its toll. Genny's two years in Costa Rica were great for her. Because of the year 'round good weather, she was able to spend a lot of time outside and developed great lizard catching skills. She was more active then when we lived in British Columbia.

She loved walking up the hill to our mango and banana trees. She became adept at slipping through the front gate to explore forbidden territory. She took long, luxurious naps outside in the deep grass under the pergola covered with passion fruit vines.

We miss her a lot but we know she lived a long, happy life with us. Consider what her probable fate would have been if my husband, Lance, had not heard her mewing in our backyard 14 years ago. It appeared that she was tossed there and she was a very tiny kitten.

Genny - 2013

So, if you are considering moving to Costa Rica, please make every effort to bring your pets with you. We know one couple who arrived with their seven cats! If they can do it, so can you!

Barney and Scruffy - "Can Genny come out and play?"