Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Doña Hilda´s Tamal Asado

At four on a chilly morning in San Cristobal Norte, Costa Rica, Doña Hilda and Don Geraldo woke up to feed wood into the mouth of our large outdoor oven. Barefooted I stepped out to observe, but was quickly sent back into my room to put shoes on, as walking barefoot in our house is next to streaking. With shoes on I was permitted to help heat the oven for the morning´s batch of Biscocho and Empanadas de Chivere. My host family would be recieving 30 volunteers from a church in Missourri, the start of their participation in rural tourism.

Along with the Biscocho (recipe to come in a future post) and Empanadas, my host mom prepared tortillas, cheese and Tamal Asado. Now put corn´s bad reputation aside, and you have one of my favorite coffee treats. I don´t have anything to compare it to, you will have to just make the correct conversions (find a wood burning oven) and try the Tamal Asado for yourself...ingredient for this post is CORN FLOUR. My host mom uses corn flour in many of her dishes and I would love to share a new recipe with her if anyone has any recipe´s using corn flour. Granted she makes the corn flour herself, but recipes using store bought corn flour are equally welcome.

Doña Hilda´s Tamal Asado

1 kilo corn flour (my host mom actually makes this from scratch...let me know if you want the recipe!)
1/2 kilo queso casero (fresh cheese from the cow´s milk)
2 cups natilla (also made fresh from the cow´s milk, similar to sour cream)
1 stick butter
4 liters milk
1 kilo sugar
1/2 kilo corn starch
1 spoonful salt

Mix the corn flour, cheese, natilla, butter, milk, sugar, cornstarch and salt in a large cooking pot over high heat. Stir constantly until boiling. Continue stiring until the mixture becomes difficult to churn.

Place platano leaves or wax paper on the bottom of two baking sheets. Pour the mixture into prepared pans. Next place the pans above the wood burning stove for about an hour. They can also be cooked inside a regular oven at low heat, until a crust is formed.

Let chill for an hour before enjoying. Tamal Asado is great served with a cup of Costa Rican café.

Now hopefully you have a fresh slice of Tamal Asado or at least a cup of coffee to enjoy as I update you on the locura of the last few weeks.

First and foremost on Friday May 21st, 2010, at Ambassador Anne Andrew´s house in San Jose, Costa Rica, 53 new Peace Corps Volunteers were sworn in, myself included. Check out the U.S. Embassy´s homepage for a little blurb about the morning http://sanjose.usembassy.gov/. Like all PC events, the morning passed quickly, but I couldn´t stop smiling as I looked over and saw my Tarbaca host-family all dressed up, my fellow volunteers, and the PC leaders, thinking this is it- very soon we will be dispersed to our sites, begining the work we´ve been talking about for the last three months.

The Sunday following swearing in Marta and Marvin (host parents from my training community Tarbaca) drove me to my new site, San Cristobal Norte. At first I was dissapointed that I was placed so close to San Jose and the training communities (we often talk about the other group, RCD´s training communities in our community development meeting and their pueblos participated in our fiesta de boyeros), but after more than two weeks here, I couldn´t be happier with my site or my location.

Fun and games with the training crew of Tarbaca. Elena, Carlitos, Davy y Don Geraldo.

Monday, my first day in my new home, started with a group of volunteers from Canada, who were working on a project with the municipality and community, building a road. Blake, the PC-volunteer before me, had set up for University aged volunteers to come work in San Cristobal Norte through ISV. Although it is nice having English speakers in the community I find myself talking to their families and the leaders instead. The first group has come and gone (I translated over 18 tear-filled goodbyes at their going away party) and the new group is here working on the road and a water tank. Following the road building, I headed to the weekly community bank meeting at SACRIN.

I am constantly impressed with my counterpart, SACRIN. In my second Monday meeting with the bank, we pulled up profiles of local community members on Kiva. Laura Sefura Brenes, has a fabrica attached to her house where she and her husband (and a team of about 6 women) make clothes. The meetings are long, often lasting from 4 until 8.30 pm, but we always break for tea and treats and chat about the local community events. Although I am still learning the vocabulary, I was quickly thrown into translating for the new volunteer group (University students from the US and India). It was challenging translating words into English that I had only just begun to understand in Spanish, but both parties (the board members of the bank and the volunteers) were satisfied, and I promised the bank after two years I would be an experta.

Although we are discouraged from starting any projects during the first three months, I have already had multiple community members approach me about their dreams of developing rural tourism. And as I mentioned at the start of the post, this sueño is already being realized by my host famliy. We spent last week preparing the food, and I translated two recipes into English to hand out to the church group that was passing through. Another group is coming this Friday and the following Friday, and my host mom earned enough to purchase a new microwave. She dreams of one day opening a place to stay, and teaching cooking classes to visitors (her dream includes attending my future English classes to speak to tourists).

Between the Bank, the volunteers, and the church group, I still have plenty of time for the required cafecitos... I´ve been running (or walking with one of my two walking buddies, one that walks uphill 2 km and one that walks down hill 3 km then uphill)- and it is on these runs and walks that I get the majority of my invitations. One invitation for lunch included delicious ceviche and a tour of the family´s gas producing system from pig excrements (more to come on this in a future post). It is always my informal chats with women of SCN that leave me the most contenta, from the toothless Doña Flor, who I sometimes dance with to the morning reggaton, to Juliette, a 16 year old who shares her dreams of University and supporting her parents.

Speaking of the youth in the community, another very exciting project is an 8 month course for jovenes that started two weeks ago. The profesor of the course comes in from Heredia for the night (and stays at our house) and teaches two courses, one from 5-9 on Friday and another from 9-12 on Saturday. The idea is that I am the permanent contact for the youth, and am really looking forward to getting to know them (right now we have over 75 jovenes between the two courses). The course is put on by two organizations, MAG and FAO and the curriculum focuses on empowering the youth to start their own businesses or continue school, ending with a variety of scholorships and funds for the youth that complete the course. The profesor is both dynamic and intelligent and I am excited to learn from his classroom management skills and see how my role in the course develops.

Lastly a little update on Church. Two Saturday´s ago I was presented to the congregation. I stood in front of about 200 community members while they clapped and the Padre declared that although I appeared very machita (blond) I could actually speak Spanish better than some of them (a joke, but one I appreciated).

Last weekend was the desfila, or parade of boyeros, bingo and a trampoline. I didn´t win anything in Bingo, but took away an invitation to a 70th wedding anniversary, a despedia party and a wedding.
Boyero, his yunta de bueys and his yunta de hijos.

Almost forgot that I have started informal English classes with the intermediate students that had classes with Blake. This Wednesday we will be practicing with the volunteers in town...

As my host mom would say, it has been nothing but carreras since I´ve arrived- but it´s nothing that a cup of coffee with milk fresh from one of our 10 cows (we keep purchasing cows) won´t fix. And yes, I have been perfecting my milking technique-
Juan Carlos and his ternero. Best part of the parade was sprinting 2 km downhill in the rain with Juan Carlos and Jose. I took 2nd place!