The backyard mango crop is coming in! And look at the size of these behemoths... easily 6" long and 14" in circumference! With many more on the way. We didn't think these babies were ripe yet but when our landlords were over the other day, Isaac enthusiastically picked these, saying we should take them before the birds eat them. So now they await full ripeness on the counter as I try to figure out how to make use of so many mangos coming ripe all at the same time. Fortunately, I recently learned to make Mango Chutney so that will utilize some of them. Then there's mango on ice cream, mango in salads, mango smooties and when I run out of ideas, there's always Epicurious.com, Allrecipes.com, the Food Network and dozens of other online recipe sites for inspiration.
|A backyard bounty!|
The chutney came about after our friend Marcial introduced us to Raymond, a local resident who sells Indian spices. As I had been looking for garam masala for a while I promptly bought that only to learn that he also had some packaged spices including Shan Chicken Curry seasoning. So along with ground coriander, cumin and Tandoori seasoning, I took a package of the curry mix and cooked it that night. Wow! It was excellent but since I used the whole package, it was quite fiery. I decided it needed some chutney to cool the heat a bit. I always thought of chutney as a complex dish but much to my surprise the recipe I found on Epicurious was rather simple. Other than chopping the mangoes, it was a quick preparation and very tasty, the perfect accompaniment to an Indian curry.
|"The drinking club with a hiking problem"|
With Layne home again to enjoy my cooking, we're back in our routine of regular gourmet meals. But living in a foreign country also means learning about unfamiliar foods, which was the case after our latest hike with our "gang" of friends. The very strenuous trek up took us up into a national preserve near the home of Chris and Sue, who have moved away from Santa Eulalia temporarily while they obtain residency and buy property to build on here in the "old neighborhood." They have rented the very grand home owned by our Guatemalan friend Carmen and her Tico husband Roberto, who literally built the house himself.
|The "great" Great Room|
With Roberto as our guide this time, we headed up the hill behind the house into a densely forested jungle of massive trees with huge vines wrapped around their trunks and branches, creepers as fat as a man's bicep winding up into the canopy above us. We all posed on the aboveground root or arm of one particular type of tree, which Marcial said was used by Ticos in his youth to make tables and even beds because of their flat width.
|Sitting on what could be a bed!|
|View from the top|
|We're just getting started...|
|Stephen and Marc|
|See those cattle trails?... that's where we're heading!|
Eventually we emerged onto an open plateau looking out over the entire Central Valley below, tired but thrilled by the view and fully expecting a less demanding walk back to the house. Oh, but no! What was viewed by Roberto as "easy" soon proved to be a challenging and treacherous scamper for Layne and me, up and down the narrow tracks made by cattle. That's "up and down" several times! Nursing a lightweight hangover from party-time the night before with Bonnie and Stephen, Layne and I clenched our walking sticks and soldiered on, but not in very good spirits.
|Can you see me? I'm the one in the red shirt|
(click on photos to enlarge; hit Back button or Escape to return)
|Bonnie, Layne and Eroca|
Still, by the time we made it back to the house and cooled off with a cerveza, we had regained our good humor and took consolation in our successful and safe return. We were all ready for the banquet we knew was to come. Chris and Sue had promised "beer-butt chicken" and everyone else had brought tasty offerings to add to the meal. Marcial, however, had harvested an unexpected Tico treat along the way: Flor de Itabo, an edible flower of the Yucca plant here in Central America and a centerpiece of holiday meals around Easter when it is in bloom.
|Photo by Frank Sullyvan Cardoza Ruiz|
Marcial patiently removed the delicate white petals of the open flowers, along with the central stem full of unopened blossoms. He set all that in water and brought it to a slow boil for five minutes or so.
|Marcial removes the petals|
|Cooked immature buds - yummy!|
|Beer-butt chickens on the grill|
Once done, Chris, Stephen and I sampled the small flower buds from within the stem and found them to have a piquant, slightly bitter flavor, not unlike Brussels Sprouts. Adding the softened flowers to a sauté of onions, chili dulce and eggs, Marcial produced a delicious egg scramble that tucked inside a tortilla served as appetizer along with Carmen's black bean dip and picante green salsa, Eroca's pico de gallo and my Caesar dip with veggies. We enjoyed these delicacies while we awaited the finale of those outrageous chickens. They proved well worth the wait, tender and juicy with a distinctive flavor from Chris' spicy rub. As our friend Joel would say: "Very successful!"
After dinner Daniel serenaded us with beautiful classical guitar music. He's getting better and better!
|Daniel and Layne entertain|
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