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Friday, February 22, 2013

Knowing Where Your Food Comes From

In Canada, when shopping for meat, I just went to the local grocery food chains (Safeway, Save-On Foods, etc.) and bought chicken, beef or pork already cut up, laid out nicely on a styrofoam plate and plastic wrapped. All you had to do was pick out the package you wanted. There were butchers available but mostly I never interacted with them. Everything was clean and neat and you might never think about where these pieces of meat actually came from.

Here in our small town of Atenas, surrounded by farms, it is a different matter. There are no packages of pre-wrapped meat. You will have to ask the butcher for what you want. All the different cuts are laid out in the coolers in front of you so you can point, but you still have to ask for the amount. I can finally order the amount of ground beef I want, how many chicken breasts, and how much fish. By the way, the smoked pork chops are really good.

The other thing that might take a bit of getting used to by the sanitized people of North America are the hanging carcasses. They are in every grocery that has a meat department. You might see a butcher busily stripping a beef carcass of different cuts. I thought this might bother me a lot, but it hasn't. It's the way it is and hiding the fact behind plastic wrap doesn't change anything. We ate meat in Canada and we eat meat in Costa Rica. It's just that in North America things are "prettied up" so we didn't have to think of the animal the meat was coming from.

The other day I decided to buy beef bones for Scruffy, the adopted neighborhood dog. I went to the Atenas Centro market (the one opposite the taxi stands). This is the place to buy great seafood, produce and meat all week long. The Tres Hermanas (The Three Sisters) soda is always busy. We've eaten there numerous times. There are also several other sodas that attract a lot of business, shops that sell shoes, leather goods, and so on. On one side of the indoor market are, I think, four butcher shops (might be five, didn't count). I decided to go to the last one for no good reason.

I asked for tres hueso para perro (three bones for a dog) but ended up with three kilos of bones! Oh well. So there was this large bovine carcass hanging that they were breaking down and they told me it would be a few minutes. There was also a sheep and pig carcass. It's a busy butcher shop. People were coming and going, picking up their orders. There must have been four or five workers in the shop. They have a big band saw in the middle where they run the carcasses through to cut them up. Children were there with their parents so they certainly know where their meat comes from.


I got 3 kilos of good beef bones for 2 mil ($4.00 CAD). Put them all in the freezer to kill any nasties, then cooked them. Scruffy gets one bone every few days. Apparently he is taking them up to our neighbour's house, chowing down on them, them burying them at their place. I guess their soil is not as rock hard as ours is at the moment ... we need rain.




Thursday, February 21, 2013

My Pineapple - Week 6

I think Ani is developing her own little crown at the top. They grow up so fast ...



Saturday, February 16, 2013

Banana Harvesting

This morning our gardener, José, picked a very large hand of bananas from one of our trees. He hit the trunk once with a machete and the tree started to lean over. A second slash and down it went.

I made these vídeos of José with the bananas. I wish I had arms like he does. He took about half the hand and we will share the rest with our next door neighbours. It seems like the bananas ripen all at once and it is hard to use them up before they turn too brown.

He hung our share from an outside rafter, then covered it with a plastic bag to keep the insects, birds and bats off them. These particular bananas are sweet and delicious.



Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Importance of Networking

Even if one moves to a foreign country where the language spoken is the same as one's mother tongue, there are still challenges finding goods and services. It is even harder, of course, if you speak little or none of the country's language.

In our case, for example, moving to a Spanish speaking country provided challenges because our Spanish on arrival was virtually nil. We had taken a six week basic Spanish class just before arriving but that was hardly adequate. We have taken some classes here and are also learning by osmosis. We do not have a vehicle so we were immediately thrust into using taxis, a great way to start communicating in Spanish, and the taxi drivers here are really helpful. I remember one in San José who patiently showed us how to decipher colones when we first arrived.

One vitally important thing you must do is to create a network with other expats and also with the locals. For instance, my husband needed new glasses and Jorge our taxi driver took us right to the door of an optomistrist in Atenas. We now go to Optica Centro Visual for our eye needs, telephone 2446-4581, in the Romacentro on the first floor, near Soda Tío Mano and Gollo.

Do not isolate yourself from your community. Make friends with your neighbours. Here in Atenas we have a Facebook page where we can ask questions and get answers. Somebody always knows where something can be found. We share all kinds of useful information - upcoming events, where to have your vehicle repaired, the places to find certain kinds of foods, and so on. There is also another Facebook page where we can advertise goods wanted or for sale. I have a friend who knows where just about everything is in Alajuela and Atenas. We have fun shopping in the same stores the Ticos shop in. Every day it seems I learn something new, even if it is just a new word.

The North American style big box stores are okay for some things but you really miss out on what Costa Rica is all about if you limit yourself to shopping in them exclusively. By getting to know the Ticos, if you live in Costa Rica, you will unlock a wealth of knowledge - it is their country after all and who knows it better.


Friday, February 8, 2013

My Pineapple - Week 4

This is like watching paint dry.



Dogs and Cats

We arrived in Costa Rica with just one animal, a cat named Genny. Since living here in Vista Atenas, we and our neighbours seemed to have acquired more animals without any effort at all. They move in and out of our lives.

There is Barney, whom I have written about in previous blog posts. Then there is Scruffy, the dog who appeared from nowhere and has adopted all of us.

This is what it looked like yesterday afternoon at our casa:



Scruffy the Dog and Barney the Cat

Scruffy the dog appeared today wearing a lovely collar bought for him by our neighbours.

Barney the cat just sleeps all day long on our patio chairs or at our neighbour's house. All three animals get along fine, except Barney will give Scruffy warning hisses now and then and sometimes Genny and Barney smack each other in the face.


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Dim Sum in San José

A couple of Sundays ago, eight of us took the 10:30 am bus from Atenas to San José to have dim sum.

We had not eaten dim sum since leaving Vancouver, British Columbia, almost two years ago. Vancouver and the Lower Mainland have the best Asian restaurants, and any restaurant for that matter, in North America. Richmond, south of Vancouver and home to Vancouver International Airport, is where the greatest concentration of Asian restaurants can be found. We used to go for dim sum on the weekends, quite often being the only non-Asians seated. We watched what other tables were ordering and tried many different dishes.

There are quite a few Asian restaurants in San José to choose from. I decided to start with Don Wang, situated on Calle 11, between Avenidas 6 and 8. The phone numbers are 2223-5925 and 2233-6484. They are open from 11:00 am to 3:30 p.m. and 5:30 pm to 10:00 pm Monday to Thursday; and to 11:00 pm on Fridays. On Saturday, their hours are 11:00 am to 11:00 pm and 11:00 am to 10:00 pm on Sunday. English, Mandarin, Cantonese and Spanish are spoken. Note: if your browser does not show a link to the menu items on the Don Wang website, click here and then click on the American flag if you want to read it in English.

The restaurant is very nice inside, with a koi pond in the middle. We were seated at one of the two round tables that each seat twelve. Service was prompt and friendly.

We ordered from the dim sum menu. Selections were turnip cake with shrimp sausage, Chinese churro roll, shrimp rolls, sticky rice in lotus leaf, bamboo shrimp, mushroom pork shrimp, and vegetarian dumplings. The menu numbers were 3, 21, 27, 28, 33, 34, 5 and 20 if you want to try any of them. These are on the dim sum menu, not the regular menu. For dessert, we ordered numbers 50 and 51. One of these was sticky rice balls with black sesame seeds.

One of our party did not eat meat and another did not eat pork but we were able to order enough varied items to satisfy everyone. In addition to the dim sum, we also ordered drinks - beer, tea, soda, a fresh fruit drink. Total cost for eight people: $100 - that is just a little over $12 per person and we had so much food we could hardly finish it. I think that is very reasonable.

We want to go back to try some of the Szechuan items - they are spicier. I would highly recommend Don Wang Restaurant. The dim sum compares favourably with what we would receive in Richmond Asian restaurants. One of our friends, also from the Pacific Northwest, liked the sticky rice balls so much he ordered some to take home.

Happy Group



Sunday, February 3, 2013

Fiestas Palmares 2013

This year we went with friends to the Palmares festival which ran from January 10 to 21, 2013. It is a two week event and the second largest festival in Costa Rica after the Zapote festival. Palmares is the capital city of the canton Palmares in the province of Alajuela. It is at an elevation of 1,017 meters above sea level, as compared to Atenas, which is situated 698 meters above sea level.

The festival is huge, featuring a tope (horse parade), concerts, a fun fair, sporting events, local food, a parade of lanterns, fireworks displays, an art show and entry is free.

At the food stands, I tried choripan - an Argentinian street food - and it was so good. Much better than hot dogs. Also chowed down on a pupusa, a Salvadorian stuffed tortilla. By the way, La Fiesta de las Pupusas is a Salvadorian restaurant in Atenas, on highway 3, near the gas station. We haven't eaten there yet, but it is on my list.

The day we were there, international artist, Shaggy, was featured. We enjoyed wandering around with the Ticos. It was a perfect day for fair going.

Make sure you attend Fiestas Palmares next year.


Interesting scarf.
Band before headliner Shaggy


Everyone was at the fair


Friday, February 1, 2013

My Pineapple - Week 3

I don't think our baby pineapple has grown any taller but I think it is wider. The colours are amazing.