Sunday, March 30, 2008

Costa Rica Part 3: A Food Moment

Although I am jumping ahead chronologically, I must record my last meal in Costa Rica because I promised two wonderful waiters that I would. I had one of those great “food moments”, when a meal becomes a means of communication across all barriers—language, cultural, gender and age.

On Friday evening, my family and I sat on the open-air balcony at Paso Real in Liberia (it was so good the first time, I had to go back!) In the plaza central a local karate club was holding a meet and proud parents filmed every move from the church steps, like spectators on the bleachers.

For a final taste of the tropics, I ordered jugo de cas again and everyone loved it. My next selection was jugo de guanabana. Over the past week, I had begun to think guanabana was another name for “ugly fruit,” a green spiky thing with pure white insides that I adored as a child visiting Jamaica. One sip, and the creamy juice transported me instantly! (In other regions around the equator, this fruit is also called sour sop).

Before I’d even looked at the main courses, I noticed a juice I did not recognize, called chan. The two headwaiters happily fielded my mountain of questions and darted to the kitchen to bring us a taste. The juice was a clear with small black somethings at the bottom of the sifter shaped glass. Jugo de Chan, the waiter told me, does not come from a fruit, but rather its seeds. The hard semillas de chan (seeds) also called chía, blossom into tapioca-like jellies in cold water. It is like a Central American version of Asia's Bubble Tea. In the sweetened water, the seeds exuded a slightly minty taste producing a drink that was almost medicinal. The waiter confirmed my suspicion: chan is often used to quell an upset stomach or reduce a raging fever!

Those lovely waiters didn’t stop there; instead they fed my curiosity, producing the little black seeds and a cup of water so we could see the process in action. While we watched the seeds grow, another glass appeared on the table. The lightly golden liquid clung to my straw like maple syrup. “Es linaza,” one waiter said, “disuelto en el agua con miel.” I didn’t understand until he produced the small sesame shaped seeds that gave the drink its warm, earthy flavor-- Flaxseeds! In the States this seed is added to energy smoothies or baked into whole-grain bread but in Costa Rica it is ground and dissolved into this honey flavored drink. Like chan, bebida de linaza is also used for digestive health. What intriguing and refreshing appetizers!

The night was flawless, I told the two waiters about this blog and they asked for the address. They brought us little baggies to take the semillas de chan y linaza home and soon our meals of freshly caught seafood arrived—a whole pargo frito (fried snapper), camarones a la plancha (grilled shrimp), filet de dorado (fillet of mahi mahi) and meat ravioli for my 14 year old brother.

It was the prefect send off. Nothing could have better encapsulated the generosity and kindness that I encountered during my short stay in Guanacaste, Costa Rica.

Gracias Costa Rica, mi viaje fue maravillosa, voy a regresar rápidamente! Amigos, gracias , y que les guste este blog!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Costa Rica Part 2

Yesterday morning began with surfing....awake at 7:00am for the perfect swells at 8:15. That ocean gets you going, no coffee needed!

Post Cowa-bunga, I had an energizing and heart healthy snack. The Avocado-Banana Spirulina smoothie was an unusual combination, but the taste was amazing. The avocado's earthy richness rounded the flavor of freshly picked banana, its flesh still warm from the tropical sun.

Beneath its beautiful color and unique taste, this drink is dedicated to keeping surfers happy and healthy all over Costa Rica. Avocados have a mono unsaturated fat called Oleic Acid which helps lower cholesterol and protect against breast cancer. Both avocado and bananas have two great surfer nutrients: fiber to keep you slim and trim (prime wave-catching shape) and potassium to stabilize your blood sugar for long lasting energy. The last ingredient, Spirulina, is a ancient algae full of protein (60-77% by weight), iron and vitamin b among many, many other nutrients. Check this out in the supplement section of a grocery or health food store. It is quite the nutritional workhorse.

After another day in the waves, getting beat about by mother nature, I've worked up quite an appetite. I wonder whats for dinner?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Viva Costa Rica! My Edible Adventure Part 1

I'm currently seated in the open air lobby of a small Best Western in Liberia, Costa Rica awaiting a 2'oclock 20 minute plane ride to Nosara, a beach front city in the north western region known as Guanacaste. I can smell the rice and beans cooking in the back for lunch as I remember my meal from last night.

After a long day of travel, I headed to Restaurante Paso Real, and ordered jugo de Cas. The cas is a round fruit with a knobbly, brilliantly green exterior fruit that protects its sweetly acidic flesh. The juice was thick: my drink had clearly been squeezed just moments before and mixed with crushed ice. The texture was like icy protein shake but the refreshing taste of lemon, cucumber, lime and orange cleansed my palate and cooled my entire being.

Sipping my drink on the open air patio, I watched the youthful night crowd enjoy their Saturday evening in the tiny town's plaza central. After my meal of ceviche mixta de camarones y pescado (shrimp and fish marinated in lime juice, olive oil and chilies) and after I'd finished the last sip of jugo, my day of plane rides and airport lines had evaporated into foggy memory. I was in Costa Rica, there was no snow and the air smelled of cooking bananas. What more could I ask for!?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A Rose by Any Other Name....

When I was young, perhaps twelve years old, my mother looked at me across the dinner table, full of empty plates, and the remains of a chocolate cake "Ellie" she said, "Would you rather be hungry or full?"

I paused, considering each of the physical states- "Oh, I'd rather be eating...."

Nothing could be more apt then, to name my little project one of the greatest joys of my life. Life would be nothing without a little flavor.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Food of the Week: Grapefruit

It’s grapefruit season in the northern lands!
Everyday, you might enjoy the fruit’s tangy-sweet flavor doing a tap dance on your tongue, but did you know just how kind you are being to your body?

Everyone knows citrus fruits are great sources of Vitamin C, the handy little friend that lessens our cold symptoms and boosts our immune systems, but grapefruits are great for other reasons too:

The pamplemousse (as it is known in France) is a excellent detoxifier. Compounds in the fruit called limonides enhance the our liver ability to make toxins water soluble and therefore easier to clear out. The fruit's ruby juice is not only dense in antioxidant count, its pulp contains compounds called glucarates that may specifically target breast cancer. Finally, the naringenin in grapefruit helps repair damaged or mutilated DNA, making this citrus a great long-term addition to your breakfast routine.

But you can eat grapefruit anytime, not just in the morning! Toss some slices on to a salad with red onions, feta and chicken for a great lunch; make a fruity salsa with mango, jalapeño and cilantro; or take grapefruit juice, lime juice, olive oil, a bit of chopped onion, hot pepper and toss with small pieces of a white fish (like sea bass) to make your own ceviche!

But wait, why is sectionized fruit with the thick peel called a grapefruit? Grapefruit earned its name in 1814 in Jamaica for its grape-like clusters on tree branches! Cool!

Check out these great recipes.....
roast pork loin with grapefruit
ginger and pink grapefruit cheesecake
grilled sea bass, mango, grapefruit and avocado salad

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A Good Nutrient : Iron

Feeling tired? Drained? Can't focus?
The winter grayness is starting to sap my energy.

Maybe I need a solid dose of Iron!

Iron is the core of the hemoglobin molecule, the little guy who carries oxygen in the body. If our iron stores are low, our muscles don't get enough oxygen and we feel fatigued. A lack of iron could be causing your headaches, your dizziness or even your apathetic attitude. Sound familiar? It does to me.....

In the morning, I reach for my coffee but I'm starting to think twice. My mocha won't help boost natural energy levels, in fact the caffeine and tannins found in tea and coffee drinks inhibit the body's iron uptake, totally counter productive to its energy-focused goal. The same concept holds true for soda, so be warned you diet coke fiends!

How much iron do we need? Women 19-30 year old should get about 18 mg per day. And a male of the same age, about 10-12 mg.

Interestingly enough, if you are taking oral contraceptives, you may need less iron because the drug changes the iron status within your body.

For a good measurement, a cup of cooked spinach delivers 36% of your daily value of iron and a serving of shrimp yields 20%.

Now we know why Popeye had so much E N E R G Y !!

Monday, March 3, 2008

A Grocery Discovery: Siggi's Yogurt

As a child, my mother thought yogurt was the most romantic treat in creation. Apparently, this image stems from a 1950 commercial depicting a young girl frolicking in the Swiss Alps with a herd of cows and spooning up whole milk yogurt in the sun. Dannon simply doesn't evoke this kind of elation.

But, this weekend I introduced her to a new gem I discovered :
Siggi's Icelandic Style Skyr Yogurt.

Scooping the dense, perfectly white yogurt into her mouth, I believe her exact words were "I feel so romantic!" Go figure.

Siggi's its homemade and extra thick, despite being totally non-fat. The texture is reminiscent of a high-quality ice cream-- smooth and rich. To make his Icelandic yogurt, Siggi takes fresh cows milk, skims the fat to make butter, and strains the milk of excess water. This process requires three times more milk than a regular cup of yogurt and produces a serving that is packed with 16 grams of protein vs. a typical 5-8 grams.
Siggi's yogurt is sweetened with Agave syrup, a low-gylcemic sweetener that comes from core of the Mexican plant by the same name. Siggi would never use anything artificial, "I shudder at the mere thought" he says.

Looking at his website, I can't help picture Siggi watching over every single batch of this precious yogurt. He started making this treat when he grew heart sick for his homeland. "[In Iceland] skyr is as traditional as apple pie in the United States."

I suggest trying the Pomegranate Passion Fruit flavor. I've never tasted anything so evocative of those fruits without actually biting into one!

Want to try making your own yogurt? Check this out!