Today I was introduced to the arduous task of preparing olla de carne (pot of meat). My host — Elizabeth Sanchez — started early this morning. Had I known the roosters weren’t the only ones up at that hour, I would have joined her to help much sooner than I did. By the time I came out of my room a bit after 7 a.m., she already had the fire going, the “carne” in the “olla,” and was preparing to head to the bakery and vegetable stands she preferred in the nearby community. I was invited to ride along with her and her son Pablo and it was a breath of comfort air when I walked into the “panaderia” and took in the familiar aromas of crusty goodness. Next we stopped at a “feria” — a local farmers’ market and got what I thought was a week’s worth of vegetables but instead turned out to be the treasure trove that makes up the other items swimming around with all that carne.
Pablo and his younger brother Javier made a morning of moving wood from the front of the house where it had been delivered to the back yard where the fruit trees (including bananas!) allowed just enough space for a woodshed. Elizabeth and I listened to my music (her radio didn’t want to work and she confessed to a liking of Tom Jones, Frank Sinatra, the BeeGees and … Guns & Roses!) and prepped all the vegetables.
As I peeled the potatoes I couldn’t help but reflect on the simple beauty of the moment — mother and sons living life — as well as the metaphor I held in my hands. I do so hope to peel away the roughly constructed sentences that allow me only glimpses into the heart of the people with whom I’m living. I have a “buen provecho” — an appetite — for the more substantial stories that are floating around me (not unlike the ash coming from that nearby volcano). I know that just as we had to add the vegetables according to their need for more or less cooking time, I will have some areas that will need long and patient tending. Until then I will make do with the short and sometimes satisfying moments like when Pablo revealed that while he knows English and wishes to practice more, he is committed to my advancement in Spanish. I explained that learning Spanish 24 hr a day isn’t always easy and anytime he wanted to reverse roles, I was ready to support him!
Since I’m sure many are wondering what my new home looks like, here’s a quick tour:
The outdoor kitchen and my gracious host
The great outdoors — Costa Rica’s gift to us all …
And since I started with olla de carne, I’ll conclude with a shot of the finished product …
No, this plate is not for a family of four. It’s mine and I only made a small dent in it. I begged to save what remained for later but she insisted that her parents nearby had animals which were going to benefit from my lack of fortitude. Each vegetable — papas (potatos), camote (sweet potato), yuca, ayote (acorn squash), chayote (another squash), and elote (corn on the cob) — retained its unique identity (a success story not all the Southern cooks I know who let their veggies simmer for so long can claim as truth). I enjoyed taking small portions of the final addition of the plantain and the wonderfully enhanced rice and dropping them into the broth that so richly layered in flavor I gasped when I took my first taste.
I think my first home cooked meal in Costa Rica may bode well for my journey. With loving, slow attention, wonders will be mine.