After our first three months of perpetual sunshine, dried fields, hill fires, and wildlife breaking out of the fences to seek out something green to eat, the seasonal shift of weather has finally arrived. It starts with a whimper with the occasional white puffy clouds interrupting the sunshine in the afternoons, growing after a few days to dark clouds from the eastern mountains crawling their way towards the north coast increasing the humidity in the area. A few sprinkles in the afternoon start to come down in the early evening and then, in another couple of days, you can bank on a good dowsing from a thunderstorm that comes from the north and east. While the humidity level grows to the 80% level, making it very muggy, the results of the rain are almost immediate in the foothills beyond our complex and the trees lining the roads in Guanacaste.
Only a couple of days after the first rains arrived, the empty trees in the hills started budding, the floral bushes throughout the area started blooming with tropical blues, yellows, oranges and whites. The grazing fields have turned from tan to a pale green and eventually to a bright green, giving the cattle, horses, goats and sheep a much anticipated meal.
With this new moisture, however, comes the resulting wildlife that seems to have hatched overnight. Of particular note are the bullfrogs and cane toads. Calm during the daylight hours, these creatures come to life after the sun goes down with their croaking and chirping. It seems like just as we are going to bed, the mating ritual gets more frenetic, as captured by Jackie a couple of nights ago:
As I understand it, this mix of daylight sunshine, afternoon clouds, evening rains will be the pattern for the next 4 months, but the color display is worth it.
On another note, Jackie and I have decided to try our hand at “primal cooking” With the kitchen implements and machines we brought down from the U.S., along with the natural ingredients down here (and some internet recipes), we decided to create some of our own food. It started with a project with which we had some previous knowledge and that was making our own sausage. We had dome Polish sausage in the past and this time we decided to try our hand at sweet Italian sausage (Dulce chorrizo Italiano). I got the pleasure of grinding the 4 pounds of pork butt through the mixer attachment while Jackie blended the spices. A few crumbles cooked on the stove let us know we had another winner sausage on our hands. We shared a package with our neighbors, Berna and Oskar and are waiting on their review as Ticas.
Next on the creative list was cheese making, a new venture for us. As I had mentioned in earlier blogs, cheeses (other than local goat cheese) are very expensive here, a small package of shredded Mozzarella can run as much as $8.00. After some suggestions from local ex-pats and searching the Internet, Jackie came up with a recipe for making her own Mozzarella: No problem, milk, rennet, citric acid, and temperature control, right? Visits to at least a half dozen stores and armed with a Spanish translation, we are shown creme, milk of magnesia, baby formula until we finally find rennet (cuajo de leche) at a local pharmacy in Huacas. I have no idea what this is used for, but the pharmacist found some in the back with the vitamins and gave the package of tablets to us without charge since they were beyond the expiration date.
With one ingredient down, our search for citric acid begins. Not much of a language barrier here since it translates to Acido Citrico…simple, right? The clerks at the stores we visited all had the same deer in the headlights look when we asked where to find it (the common answer was Auto Mercado, but that was a false lead). Jackie and I found a restaurant supply company in Liberia online and they said they carried citric acid, so off we went to Liberia with the address loaded in the GPS. The fine young lady in the computer directed us to a business park and told us we had arrived at our destination, but there was no supply store to be found. We drove around this business park a couple of times, and, as luck would have it, we see our neighbor, Oskar outside of an office, and he was as surprised to see us as we were of him. He was most helpful in directing us to a series of warehouses on the back side of the complex and, voila, there is the store. We walk around the row upon row of wonderful cookware and utensils but do not see any citric acid. I asked a clerk for the acido citrico…deer in the headlights with the eventual “No Vende”. We were prepared to pay for our meager purchases and leave without our ingredient when Oskar comes in to make sure we found the store. When we told him what we had come to the store for, he spoke his fluent Spanish to another clerk and, what should come out but a bottle of citric acid. We need to take Oskar on our future shopping adventures.
Two of the the three ingredients in hand, we head to the market for milk, a staple in our refrigerator. The recipe called for whole milk, but every product in the refrigerator was 2% or skim milk. We did see the shelf milk in vacuum boxes and there was whole milk there, but it was ultra pasteurized which is not to be used for making cheese. At this point we got the 2% and would just have to see the results.
The process was fairly simple and after some separation of the curds a whey, Jackie ended up with about a 1 pound ball of Mozzarella which needed to be refrigerated. Sample tastes proved she had a winner. To complete a meal with the sausage and cheese, we decided to try making our own pizza from scratch. I looked up a recipe for pizza dough, which was a snap with our stand mixer, and made the pizza sauce from scratch making it to our tastes which borders more on the sweet than tart. The end result was a 16″ pizza that was loaded with our own cheese and sausage:
It is just a good thing we did not have the guarantee of pizza in 30 minutes or less.