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Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Gringo Thanksgiving in Costa Rica

What a week! Starting with a wine tasting party, followed by two major shopping trips into San Jose and Santa Ana in preparation for overnight guests and the big Thanksgiving meal, then a second dinner party on Friday night, the departure of our company and a day of extensive cleanup yesterday. Whew! What happened to that tranquilo life we so enjoy?

Our upstairs neighbor Linda and I had been planning the wine tasting for several weeks, timing it for when her friend Barb was still here. Back in California Barb is a “wine educator,” teaching winery visitors which foods to serve with which wines. Linda herself worked in a winery in the Napa Valley, which is how the two met some years ago. In addition, Linda’s son is a vintner in Napa so these women bring a wealth of experience and knowledge when it comes to good wines.

Linda, Shannon and Yours Truly 
Linda and I had become acquainted with wine importer Shannon and her partner Keith at the food festival back in early October, where they had offered samples of their Argentinean wines. It was there we learned that if we provided the hors d’oeuvres and invited about a dozen people, they would bring wines for our guests to taste, in the hope, of course, that they might sell some of their product. After hours of deliberation, the food choices were made, with me preparing Caesar Dip with Crudités, organic goat cheese with basil on French bread and mildly spiced chipotle chicken cubes. Linda contributed ginger-soy grilled tuna and a fabulous chocolate cake while Barb came up with a delicious roasted red pepper Focaccia pizza. It sounds like a lot of food but it was all in bite-size pieces to go with each of the lovely wines that Shannon had brought. With a full moon shining across the swimming pool and our friends nibbling, drinking and socializing in the rancho, the event was a festive success. The hardest part was limiting our guest list to only 12 people; it’s amazing how many friends we have made in our short time here in Atenas.

One of those new friends is Jeannette, whom we met through our landlady Odie. A Canadian, Jeannette first met Odie and Eduardo just as we have: as a tenant. She rented an apartment from them when they still lived in San Jose and later bought the house she lives in here in Atenas from them. With company coming to spend a night, Layne and I were getting desperate to locate a few items for their comfort. In particular, we needed a Shoji screen to create a passageway through our bedroom to the one bathroom at night. None of the stores in Atenas had such a product but Jeannette thought that she knew of one in San Jose that might. We also needed twin size sheets for the foam pads, which would serve as our guest beds on the living room floor, and I had been hankering for a few kitchen items. So on Monday off we went in Jeannette’s car to Yamoni, a large upscale department store in San Jose, where we found the perfect screen at a bargain price. The screen barely fit into Jeannette’s small Chevy Tracker, but by leaning it over my head forcing me to hunker down in the front seat, we managed, then headed to PriceSmart for the rest of our shopping. PriceSmart is a Costco-type membership store which features bulk items in a warehouse environment. Layne and I bought a $30 membership so we can benefit from the good prices on things like paper towels, laundry detergent, olive oil and such. We squeezed all the bags in the back of the car but decided there was no room for any further shopping that day. On Wednesday, however, we once again drove with Jeannette to AutoMercado, a large grocery store for the last of our holiday supplies.
The new Shoji screen

Of course, Thanksgiving is not a tradition here in Costa Rica. Ticos have no history of Native Americans and Pilgrims sharing a meal, or of roasted turkey with all the trimmings and pumpkin pie. In fact, Layne and I were worried that we would be unable to even find a turkey locally but with the large expat population here in Atenas, some stores cater to the Gringo community by offering imported turkeys and other ingredients needed for the holiday. Americans who live here seem to find ways to celebrate our holidays even as we enjoy immersing ourselves in Costa Rican culture. 

Still, cooking for Thanksgiving was a challenge for me, spoiled as I have been to a great kitchen, big chopping block, free-range fresh turkey and all the organic foods I wanted back in California. Here we had to settle for a frozen Butterball turkey and I had to make do in the tight confines of my small kitchen, even mixing my own poultry seasoning from individual herbs. But it worked. Our friends Kate and Gilberto drove over from their mountain village La Estrella, and Jeannette and Linda joined us for a grand dinner served on our back patio, with our dining table and patio table pushed together to seat the six of us. Our charming landlady Odie also stopped by for a glass of wine and a few hors d’oeuvres before dinner. We apparently had such a good time, we all forgot to take pictures!

On Friday, Kate and Gilberto and Layne and I relaxed for some hours up by the pool, swimming then sunbathing with a good book. Gilberto pulled out his dominoes and challenged Layne to a match. Those two play cutthroat, as the occasional yells of dismay from the rancho confirmed, but eventually Gilberto triumphed over his Gringo opponent. 

That evening, I found myself preparing for still another dinner party as we had promised Gilberto a taste of the excellent bacon-wrapped filet mignons we buy at PriceSmart, cooked on the grill in the rancho. Since Gilberto speaks little English, we wanted him to have an opportunity to meet Eduardo, our Tico landlord, who also has limited English, so we invited Odie and Eduardo to meet us by the pool for dinner. Then it turned out Linda could also join us and offered to prepare some potatoes to grill. At one point, we even thought Odie and Eduardo’s son Estevan would be coming as well. As the guest list began to grow, my stress level began to rise, as I hastily added items to the menu and hurried to fix a salad. But it all came together in a pleasant evening of good food, good conversation and lots of laughter. It was a welcome return to Pura Vida! 

1 comment:

  1. What fun! Thanks for sharing. For those of us considering a move to CR, how about adding prices when you mention your everyday goods - just a ballpark would be helpful.