Cross Cultural Good Eats

I smile when I remember the first meals I passed off as good eats. For every recipe, a can of cream of mushroom soup, and a can of creamed soup for every recipe.  We munched late night tater tots and frozen fish sticks when it still felt cool to have an oven and pay the electric bill.  Life was good, even if my cooking  wasn’t.

I began to pick up on things.  Don’t be seduced by the discount on ketchup into buying half a dozen bottles.  It will go back on sale before you have to stand the first one on end.   True story.

Enter a deep freezer for Christmas.  Stocking it became my favorite pastime.  We scanned the sale ads for meat, prayed for rhubarb patches, and gleaned our friends’ sweet corn fields. Filling up the open space was easy.  Turning the booty into treasure took more finesse.

I learned—by serving surprisingly tart lasagna at a large family gathering—to taste each element of a recipe and to start adjusting flavors.  Cooking became a little less math and a lot more art.

Living in a foreign country puts a whole new spin on making good food.  While U.S. style cans and brands are popping up on shelves here, they tend to be pricey when available.  It’s been an adventure to adapt to the local offerings.  Sometimes the results disappoint.  Sometimes they get rave reviews.  I thought you might enjoy a peek into the process.

20180508 IMG_9148 cdocIf you were in my mother-in-law’s kitchen making her Italian Soup, you would cook up some Jimmy Dean Italian sausage and ground beef, chop onion, celery, & carrots, open 5 cans (tomatoes, tomato sauce, red beans, green beans), shake in some seasoning, and set the pot to simmer.  A fair amount of work, but still possible on a weeknight.

Here in Costa Rica, it all starts with the weekly farmer’s market.  The best prices and selection, along with cheerful banter, happen there before lunchtime.  It’s the only place to get baby green beans that aren’t matured to bumpy toughness.  Cruise the stalls for fresh tomatoes, celery, carrots, and onions, too.  Feel pleased that you understood the numbers rattled off so quickly in Spanish.  Ask how everyone’s family is, as you count out your coins and brightly colored bills to pay.  Stop at the brick and mortar grocery store on the way home for dry beans, tomato paste, ground pork, and beef.

At home, set your kiddos to snap the green beans so you can get them washed and steaming.  I know it’s tempting to throw them raw into the soup, but remember the one time we tried that.  Right, it tasted like grass.  Some people might go for that.  We prefer soup with green beans over Green Bean Soup.

Brown the pork and beef like normal, adding seasonings to make the plain pork more like sausage.  It’s okay, you can google the recipe. Try not to marvel that there is absolutely no fat in the pork.  Drain off the water that made up the other 15% of your ground beef.  Cattle in this country have to grow big on grass, so most red meat here is lean.

Chop/slice the onion, celery, and carrots as usual, and then before you clear the cutting board, seed and dice your pounds of fresh tomatoes.  This is where we give thanks that we spent our Christmas money on a food processor.

Hydrate the tomato paste back into a sauce with water. For real, it’s a thing.  Yes, you can buy 4 oz packets of tomato sauce at the store.  But who wants to open and squeeze out (and pay for) 8 of them per batch?  One and a third large packets of paste will get you a rich 4 cups of sauce.  Whisk in a little sugar and salt to make it tasty.

If you are getting tired at this point, I usually am, too.  Think of those dear faces who gather at your dinner table.  Keep going.  You can do it.  I believe in you.

20180508 IMG_9147 edit cdocIf you forgot to soak your dry beans overnight, you can bring them to a boil  and quick soak them for an hour.  It really does help our bellies to drain the soak water afterwards.  Get them going in fresh water in the pressure cooker for a 40 min. process, or set them to boil for a few hours.  (Check to make sure they softened up.  Every once in a while, life sells you some old beans that refuse to dance to the music of moisture and heat.  It’s helpful to realize they are still crunchy before you marry them to the rest of your ingredients.  Another lesson learned the hard way.  The kids tried not to complain too much.)  Drain and rinse the cooked beans to keep the aforementioned “soup-with-beans”-over-Bean-Soup balance.

When everything is (finally) ready, put it all into one extra grande pot and add the seasonings.  Let’s be honest, you always add too many beans and vegetables to stretch the batch, so add double of every flavoring to start.  If you happen to have any pepperoni, whether smuggled in from the states or bought locally with hefty import taxes,  dice up a bit of the precious goodness and throw it in with love.  Bring to a simmer for the flavors to meld, and keep tinkering with more tomato paste, salt, pepper, sugar, hot sauce, basil, and oregano until you say, “Mmmmm.”

It only took you most of the day.  That’s why you made a huge batch.  Now the family has a hearty supper and the freezer has some treasure to chill.  It may not exactly be my mother-in-law’s Italian soup, but it is definitely cross cultural good eats.  Enjoy!

Linking up with Velvet Ashes: Enculturating

Snapshots and Shared Joys

Some snapshots of recent joys shared here at Hogar de Vida.

The older kids had a fiesta day complete with barrel-bull riding and championship  slip ‘n’ sliding.  The riding rules had to be amended because Elijah was so good at holding on that he  dismantled the “bull” when he was finally shaken loose.

The younger kids had a piñata party and really taught us how to swing a stick.

The Lifegate team is here and is painting, praying, and loving up a storm.  It is such a blessing to spend these days with them.  Note to self: catch up on laundry and cook up some freezer meals before picking them up at the airport in the future, because you won’t want to miss any of it.

Sometimes the team members got painted themselves.

Kris was able to spend two mornings in the central kitchen learning to cook like a Tica and, even better, spending quality time with Vanessa and Oralia.   Vanessa handles lunches and dinners for the 50 + children and staff at Hogar each day.  Oralia and her husband Sebastian direct the Hogar de Vida in Guatemala.  Her visit to Costa Rica is a special treat to celebrate Dena’s 50th birthday and learn new ideas for managing a home of energetic children.

Another trek to the waterfall.

The sweetest reward for studying Spanish:  I was able to have my first conversation in Spanish with Oralia, who has been silently dear to me since our first global journey back in 2006.

More time with Cherie, our friend and mentor in all things “Tico!”  Also, a fun dinner with two wonderful missionary families who live here.  They were kind enough to let us tour their homes and glean from their experience while our kids romped together.  What a blessing to have friends in many countries.  When they wished we were coming down sooner,  we jokingly asked them to head the committee for praying in our financial support early.

The Mango Crew.  These fearless children picked up three wheelbarrows of fallen, yucky, buggy mangoes, making the campus a nicer looking (and smelling) place to be.  I’m so proud of them.

Leaf cutter ants munching away an entire bush in one day.  We were amazed to hear the soft crinkling sound of their busy harvesting and see the 4″ wide highway they cleared through the grass to take the clippings back to their hill.

Time has been passing quickly by, and it’s hard to grasp that we fly back to the states in less than a week.  I begin to understand the roots that we’ve planted in this trip by the resistance my heart feels towards leaving.  I pray that they are well-tended and flourish in the next year so that blossoms are ready to burst forth when we return in a year.  We are ready to take the next step.

Kris’ Thoughts

The Lord has had me in Romans 12, considering the value of each individual part of the body of Christ. This has been sweet to me as I spent the last few days setting up our cabin and working out our game plan of what to make for breakfast and dinners. Lunch is made for us by the Tias, and far outstrips what I can do with rice and beans. We can’t tell them enough “La almuerza estaba muy rica!” (The lunch was really good!) Given that they are spoiling us at midday, I decided to cook North American for dinners. Shopping at the supermercado was so much fun for me! Trying to figure out which Pasta de Tomate is actually what we would call tomato paste (it’s the one that’s labelled Concentrada) and how to buy meat from the man behind the counter. I sent Matt to do that and then quizzed him later–Dos kilos de hamberguesa, por favor. (Four pounds of hamburger, please.) They keep it all fresh and package it to order. The kids had fun picking out jello, cookies, and chocolate with Matt, too, while I scouted the aisles to look for things that I might use in my recipes. A far cry from my Excel spreadsheet grocery list diagramming the items I buy at Walmart by aisle location!

Eliana has had some rough spots today with her stomach. She is taking liquids and jello, and we are praying that the worst has passed through. We were giving her some soy milk that we think had lactose in it. There is some at the store that is lactose free, so we’ll try that soon. Over and over the Lord keeps pressing on my heart how precious my children are to me. Eliana has been such a trooper. Elijah misses the familiarity of home, but also loves to play with the kids here and his sister. The two of them are like peas and carrots. He is doing a great job with the cabin and changes in most areas, and is beginning to use a few Spanish words here and there.

And as I look at our three days here so far, they have not seemed very spiritual. Cooking four pounds of hamburger and freezing it in portions to make future dinners is not very exciting. Yet I know that the Lord is pleased with our setting the foundation for our time here and he’s calling me to value my contribution as well, as an organizing-and-cooking-Mommy/Wife part of the body of Christ.