Monday, March 4, 2013

Cooking with Maria Part 2

We had an incredibly cultural and culinary experience with Maria on Wednesday.
She overwhelmed us with generosity and really went out of her way to help us feel comfortable.
She kept saying how her house is not pretty, she was clearly embarrassed...
but obviously her compassion toward us went beyond that.
First, we made pork ribs.
Step One:
Start the fire.
When she was cooking in our home last week, she was always really funny about the electric stove... asking us to turn it on, make it very hot, or make it low.  We were kind of confused by that, but now knowing that she cooks over a fire full time, we completely get it.

So in order to get the fire going, she set up that tin tube to help the smoke leave the house.  Next, she got this piece of plastic, lit it on fire, and then let it drip fire and plastic onto her wood, blowing all the while.  And I thought I was a girl scout!!!
We ran out of wood partway through, so she had Scott cut some more.  I am in the corner saying "Cuidado" the entire time...  Watching Maria chop wood gave me a whole new meaning to the phrase "girl jobs."  Guess I can't pull that one anymore!
In the meantime, Wilber got home from school!  Such a good boy.  You could tell he ran home as fast as he could to hang out with the Americans who want help cooking... wouldn't you if you were an 11 year old Tico??  He was eager to have T hold the (hairless) chicks, which we didn't think was the best idea considering the germs and diseases that dirty little chicks carry.  I had already done the germ thing for the day when Maria insisted that I taste the flavor of the raw pork.  After we seasoned the meat she would rub her fingers around in the meat and then lick her fingers, encouraging me to do the same.  I tried to tell her "I don't want to" "I'm not comfortable doing that" but she would NOT move on until I did it.  This was a cooking lesson after all!
Next step: Melt the lard.  Maria uses a lot of lard.
This is the part where we prepare the meat:  Consume, salt, pepper... easy!  We cut them into fairly small pieces (2-3 bites each) and just made sure they weren't too thick so they will cook evenly.
Be sure to line up the chimney, and cook away!  The secret to this is:  LONG AND LOW.
The meat pieces were not that big, but we cooked them over a low flame for a very long time.  There was lots of fat on the ribs that diffused into the meat giving it a lot of flavor.  Apparently this process requires a long time, and we also wanted to give it long enough to cook through without burning the outsides.  Obviously. 

She made up a quick salad including tomato, onion, and finely chopped lettuce.  She just dressed it with a little bit of salt and a dash of vinegar and it was really tasty!

Maria and I have this little inside joke:  She loves to chop onion super fast while talking and doing other things... I always tell her "Mira, Cuidado" ("Look! Careful")  while she is chopping because I am so nervous she is going to get her fingers!  Whenever I say that she turns her face completely opposite the cutting board and intentionally chops faster, just to show me that she can do it!  Ahh, makes me crazy!
Maria was so sweet to set the table for us and collect enough chairs for us and her son.  She stood to eat because there weren't enough chairs.  She used a towel as a tablecloth and swept the cement floor so it would be nice for us.  I loved how she packed the rice into a small dish before plating it-- so fancy!

Okay, the pork ribs?? SOOOO good.  Like, maybe the best meat ever.  I know what you're thinking, "Haven't you ever been to Tucanos Stefanie??"  The answer is Yes.  And this was better.

After lunch T needed a little private attention, so Scott took her outside with Wilber.  Wilber seemed proud of his house- barbed wire holding the planks of the home together, dogs tied to leashes that connect to the bedroom so they will know if an animal comes after their chickens, and  their garden, where the grow almost all of their food. This family is truly self sustainable... chickens for eggs and meat, vegetables and citrus growing in the yard, we are impressed!  Wilber was especially excited when we expressed so much awe at the iguanas hanging out in his backyard tree.  
There is another family that lives in that bottom cement part, so Maria, her husband (Who is a gardener at hot springs Tabacon) and Wilber (and 1 other person, not sure who) all live upstairs.  It is a "studio" apartment meaning no separate rooms, it is all one space that fits the functions of sleeping, cooking, eating, using the bathroom (nope, no walls for that!) and even showering. They have a cold water spigot with a piece of thick plastic to wrap around when they use the shower.  
Here is the master bedroom.  Their clothes are kind of stuffed in sacks which are hanging from nails in the plank wall.  Wilber's bed is just to the right of this photo, and that is a hammock hanging over the bed, for the other person to sleep.  Creative!

This was one of those moments when T was inconsolable.  Swinging in the hammock was a good effort, but not good enough!
Here is the restroom.  There was a half wall between this and the kitchen, but we definitely watched Maria's 6 y/o grand daughter use the loo while preparing the meat.  Weird for us.  Not for them.

Next up:  Pollo Frito= Fried Chicken
We are only marginally interested in every making this on our own in the future.  But, since this was a Top Chef challenge in season 10, and since we have failed attempts in the past, we thought we better learn from a pro!  First we chopped and seasoned the meat.  Let that sit for about an hour.  Then we combine 1 part pollo mix with 2 parts flour and dredge the chicken in that.

I showed Maria my oil burns from last month's incident with the pot roast.  She made sure to instruct me as to how to flip the chicken away from you with the spoon.  

Last up was boiled plantains.  Not nearly as tasty as fried.  But, healthier.  She uses completely green plantains for this!  This is muy tipica para los Ticos. (Very typical for Costa Ricans)

We are quite thrilled that T seems to be emerging from her stranger danger phase.  We don't have many opportunities to have strangers hold her, so when we do, we love to pass her around and help her adjust to new people. Go Wilber!

Scott and I are so impressed with Maria's love to cook and her skills!  She really is good.  And this is coming from Food Network fanatics.  We feel so sad that she has this passion, yet can't afford the ingredients and supplies to cook often and well for her family.  We left as much food as we could with her, and look forward to leaving her and the family with some of our things like extra clothes and shampoo when we go on to Samara.

Maria is so generous with what she has. I have been known to make a fantastic Sunday meal and think, "You know, I'd like to eat the leftovers on Monday and send Scott with a great pack lunch" when in reality I should have and could have invited others over to share it with us.  Maria has taught me how to be a great hostess and shown me what it means to share.


Margene said...

What a neat experinces you are having and not being to proud to acept Maria for just being Maria. You will come home much better people just by getting to know and little in Costa Rico. Still watch that little girl or yours.

Rachelle P said...

Looks like you are having a great time and learning a lot!

Chelsea said...

Love it. Thanks for sharing. Sharing is caring!

Leanna said...

Cool experience. When we were in Peru we stayed with the parents of a friend of ours in Utah and it was awesome to be in their home and to talk with them...learn how they prepare food and what not. Definitely something we cherish when we learn about new cultures. Funny side mother in law always molds her rice like Maria. Maybe it is a Latin thing. Sure does make it look fancy. No wonder why my husband always appreciates the presentation of food along with the food itself. Enjoy and share more!

WtlMomma said...

I'm so loving your blog! I'm alittle behind and just catching up. I'm so touched by your friendship with Maria. What humble people they are. We all could learn so much from her! After reading, it has really made me think about what blessings I have. My simple little complaints seem so stupid right now. Thanks for sharing this with all of us and reminding ME of what's really important! Love you guys! Stay safe!