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Archive for the ‘food’ Category

Pitahaya

I’d seen this odd looking fruit in the grocery store a few times and was intrigued. It looked like a cross between a pineapple and an entire branch of bananas. Ileana said she’d tried it once and it wasn’t good, but eventually, we asked the produce guy and he said it was good. The ones on display that evening looked nice and ripe, and the grocer confirmed it.

Pitahaya fruit

Pitahaya fruit

We took it home and cut it in half. Inside was translucent with a bunch of little seeds, like black sesame seeds but more crunchy and less oily.

Pitahaya inside

Pitahaya inside

We scooped it out with a spoon and ate it. It was really good, sweet like a berry or a kiwi, but with much less acidity.

Then, today, Boing Boing had an article about something really similar:
http://www.boingboing.net/2010/01/29/taste-test-dragon-fr.html

Their review wasn’t so great, said the flavor was bland, but you know how difficult it is to get really good fruit. You have be in the right season at the right time.

We have just arrived in cantaloupe season here now. Finally!

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Detroit

This sounds like a place I could live:

http://theurbanophile.blogspot.com/2009/08/detroit-urban-laboratory-and-new.html

Grow crops, enjoy life, get ready for winter. Buy a raccoon carcass from a truck driver (feeds a family of four for $12).

I like the part about no protests at city hall, because everyone knows city hall won’t do anything, unlike in other cities, where city hall will not only listen to protesters, they will also thwart people who want to do interesting things, like build a two-story beehive.

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Rainy Season

Had a pretty good lunch over at Paseo de las Flores mall. The great thing about Costa Rican mall food courts is they always have a couple of places that serve ‘cocina tipica’ that is, typical Costa Rican food. This includes such staples as white rice and black beans, boiled vegetables, and plantains; as well as national dishes like gallo pinto (white rice with black beans), picadillo (boiled vegetables cut up in little cubes) and beef, pork or chicken. Mostly the meat is boiled for long time with vegetables, very tender, with gravy. Vegetables include chayote, squash, carrots, corn, broccoli and green beans. They also have several kinds of salad: green, beet, cabbage, and potato.

It started to rain as I was coming back from the mall. One should always have an umbrella handy when walking outdoors in Costa Rica.

Yesterday, on my way home from work, it was already raining hard. I decided to go to the Mercado, deviating just slightly from the direct route home. Lightning and thunder were flashing and booming pretty close as I waited at the bus stop. I caught the Cenada bus, going downtown.

I got off a little before the last stop at Parque Los Angeles, and the rain was hammering down relentlessly. I put up my umbrella and stepped out into the downpour. I stayed under an overhang for a little while, then sloshed across the street and down the sidewalk to the next overhang. Water was rising over the curb and still it came down in buckets.

Traffic jammed the street, buses and cars honked, thunder cracked, and  the bells of Los Angeles Cathedral started to ring. On the other corner, water rushed down the street like a river a couple of inches deep. Brave people sloshed on across. I wanted to keep my socks dry, so kept waiting for it to let up a bit.

I watched some women pick their way across from the bus stop, keeping their ankles dry in platform shoes. They even managed to get up on the curb without wading. So I ventured out, following their path in reverse. When I got to the corner it seemed the river coming down the hill was crossable. But it was meeting another river coming from up the street, flowing over the sidewalk in front of McDonalds. Fortunately, it wasn’t too deep up on the sidewalk. People with brooms and mops worked to keep the water out of McDonalds and the chicken place on the corner.

I went into the Mas x Menos supermarket (Mas por Menos, owned by Wal-Mart) and bought some candles, since our power was out at home, and a few other things. When I came out, the rain had stopped and the flood had disappeared down the hill. The power was on when I got back home.

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Thursday, May 01, 2008

Today Ily didn’t have to go to work, since it was May Day, International Workers Day, sort of a socialist holiday not celebrated much in the United States. Here, everyone has the day off, except for some restaurants and stores.

We got up late and got ready to go to the La Garita area of Alajuela, to get a plant for Ily’s classroom in La Aurora High School.

We went to the internet first to remail a homework attachment to Ily’s teacher in the University. Then we caught the bus to Alajuela. It was warmer down there than Heredia, as it always is, and quite busy. It didn’t look like a holiday there. The bus went to the airport first, then into the city. Lots of cars on the highway coming from San Jose, less traffic going toward the city.

We went to the end of the bus line in Alajuela, to the main bus yard, Parada Central de los autobuses. We got off and went into a large open bus parking area and asked a bus driver sitting in the middle of it in his bus, where we could find the bus to La Garita. He said under the big mango tree behind him. Our timing was perfect and the bus left about a minute after we got on.

We pulled the cord too late but the driver was nice and stopped for us where there was no stop. We walked back along the road to a house across the road from a nursery, or vivero. Ileana’s friend and former colleague lived in this house, and since it was near the vivero, Ily had arranged for us to visit.

Ily called through the big iron-barred gate to a man working inside. She determined that this was indeed the right house. I watched a huge ant crawling across the iron gate, not only exceptionally large, but colored a beautiful dull-gold, like no ant I’d ever seen. Not really furry either.

Ily’s friend, Nuria, came out and opened the gate for us. The yard around her house was big and spacious, with lots of trees and bushes. Birds sang everywhere. Alajuela is a lot like Hawaii, much more tropical and warm than Heredia, but not really humid. There is more open countryside there, with many small streams running through it. It is so amazingly lush and verdant. Nice to be out of the city for a change.

Inside the house, also quite large, we met the housekeeper, who was doing laundry. A wood burning stove made the kitchen really hot. Something simmered in a pot on top. Nuria added a stick to the fire. Ily said all houses in Costa Rica used to have these stoves. Every restaurant that advertises Cocina Tipica (Typical Cuisine) cooks over wood fire. There are lots of chicken places that feature this as well. They are called Pollo a la Leña. Leña means firewood.

We met Nuria’s mother, a nice, alert lady of 85. Nuria said her mother’s memory is better than hers, and that she relies on her mother to remember phone numbers and such. Her mother grows lettuce hydroponically in the back yard and sells it to a hamburger stand, about 50 heads a month, I think she said. We went to see the hydroponic beds, next to a tall block wall. The other side of the wall was her property too, and she was going to develop that side at some point. I saw a small banana tree with a bunch of bananas growing at about knee level.

After a little while, we left and went over to the vivero to find a plant for Ily’s classroom. There were even more birds singing over there. Ily wanted a small plant that wouldn’t be too heavy to carry on the bus. She wanted an inexpensive plant. She asked me to pick out one from a group sitting on the ground, but the roots had grown through the pots and they couldn’t be moved.

She asked the price of a small plant that looked almost like a bonsai tree, but it was 5000 colones, $10, too much. She finally settled on two pots of ordinary ivy. She thought that would be good in another way, since her students might be less inclined to steal it. She only wanted something green and alive to make her happy in the class.

We took the plants and walked up to the restaurant Ily had taken me to when I first came to Costa Rica last October, Las Delicias de Maiz, a cocina tipica restaurant. I had chicken fajita and she had a chicken quesadilla. The place was packed, with a few gringos in evidence.

We walked to the bus stop afterwards and waited a couple of minutes, then hailed a cab that happened to be passing. He took us to the bus in Alajuela, charged us what seemed like a lot of money for a Costa Rican taxi ride, 2100 colones, about 4.25.

clouds were visible building up over Heredia, and it started to sprinkle just a bit when we disembarked. Lightning and thunder started as we crossed Parque Inmaculada.

Just 20 feet short of our door, it really started to rain. When we got inside, it became a hammering torrential cloudburst. It lasted about a half an hour.

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I had never heard of http://cafe-de-flore.com/ before I received their email yesterday. I made a web site for my friends, never thinking a small cafe in an obscure city in Costa Rica could be mistaken for a world-famous location thousands of miles away in Paris, France.
(Though their fame may be a result of believing their own hyperbole. They claim to be the birthplace of surrealism, but all through my education in Modern Art History, the name Cafe de Flore was never once uttered. The events at Cabaret Voltaire, birthplace of Dada in Zurich, Switzerland, however, were described in at least one, and very likely two lectures. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cabaret_Voltaire_(Z%C3%BCrich) )

Apparently, there has been a practice of buying a domain name similar to another more famous one, in hopes that the owners of the famous one will want to buy it. This is called by the ICANN “bad faith” or “cybersquatting” and sounds very much like extortion or piracy, something it would never cross my mind to engage in. If I were that kind of person I would already be rich and wouldn’t need to extort the owners of a little cafe, no matter how famous.

It was never my intention to sell cafedeflores.com, not to the owners of Cafe de Flore, or anyone else. I guess that was another part of my motive for taking the site down, to demonstrate my non-attachment to the name or the website. If ICANN says I have to hand it over, I will. But certainly not at my own expense, without due process.

Gina, the owner of Cafe de Flores in Heredia, also urged me to remove her site. She said we could find another name.

But then I think, if the owners of cafe-de-flore.com (registered in 1998) had wanted to purchase cafedeflores.com (registered 2007), they had nine years to do it. It almost seems like they were waiting for someone like me to do it, so they could get it at no cost. This seems now, with a bit of time to think about it, like a predatory threat, a cheap scare tactic to get me to give something up for free that I worked and paid for. In that light, the principled thing to do would be to wait to take any action until the ICANN ruling. But yesterday I let my fear rule me. How sad.

It wouldn’t really bother me except that by making this allegation, they are forcing me to link the two websites in my mind. In turn, this linking wouldn’t bother me if their website didn’t look like it needs redesigning in a more down-to-earth postmodern style that acknowledges with some humor its own commercial roots. That’s right: the “com” in dot-com stands for “commercial.”

The designers have succumbed to the depressing trend that requires one to download “plug-ins” to view the site. Some designers seem to imagine a website is an actual geographical location, a place to do things, rather than what it actually is: an advertisement.

This is the main difference (among several) between cafedeflores.com and cafe-de-flore.com: the website at cafedeflores.com professes to be nothing other than what it is, an advertisement for a small neighborhood cafe in Costa Rica.

There is no boasting of being the birthplace of anything or having a long and colorful history. It is just a cafe, with excellent coffee, food and service, in a friendly atmosphere and at reasonable prices. The site does not teem with the names of living and dead celebrities, who come “to see, to be sawn, but discretion was very important for them.” (It must be hard to be discrete when you are being sawn.)

The other differences are subtle, but important:

One cafe is in Paris, France, the other is in Heredia, Costa Rica.

One has hyphens in the domain name, the other does not.

One has an ‘s’ at the end of the name, the other does not.

One appears in first place when you Google “cafe de flore,” the other does not appear at all.

One is in both French and English, the other is in Spanish only.

One requires plug-ins, one does not.

One is made with frames, the other is not.

One is all about Paris, the other never mentions that city.

When you type “cafe-de-flore.com” into the address bar of a web browser, you get a username and password login box instead of a web page. If you don’t have the username and password, you get a hostile warning in French.

When you type “cafedeflores.com” into the address bar of a web browser, you go directly to the website.

If I had been trying to confuse people and make them think the two sites were somehow related, I might have added “cafe de flore” to my keyword meta-tags in the head. I did not, because I never heard of Cafe de Flore until this morning when their email appeared in my inbox. In fact, there are no keyword meta-tags in the head of any of the documents making up the Cafe de Flores website.

My way of marketing is to let the advertising illustrate the product truthfully, then let the customers decide what they like without force-feeding them a tasteless diet of history and celebrity name-dropping. Sending threatening emails in a pathetic attempt to acquire a $10 domain name for free also seems like a poor way to win customers.

If I had done the design for cafe-de-flore.com, I would have asked my client if they wanted to purchase as many other similar domain names as possible, within the limits of their budget. If they had said “No, it would be better to wait until someone else buys one, then try to scare them into giving it to us free,” I think I would have passed on their account.

People go to cafedeflores.com to find the phone number and address of the actual cafe, not to play games with plug-ins or read self-aggrandizing history tracts dotted with celebrity names like raisins in an otherwise bland and bloated confection.

If the designers of cafe-de-flore.com really thought “discretion” was important to their customers, would they be using their customers names as a marketing device? And do their famous customers really want their names linked to an establishment that hires lawyers to threaten people for little or no reason? Someone needs to think through all or many of the possible consequences of their actions before sending random email threats to people who have done nothing wrong.
End of rant.

Now I’m putting Gina’s website back on line and waiting for a complaint to be lodged with ICANN, as should have been done in the first place, if there really had been a problem.

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We went to the US Embassy yesterday. Across the street was a cafe and we stopped there for a little while. On the menu was something intriguing: “bolaflake.” I asked Ileana what this might be. She shook her head and went to ask the counter girls. At first she said it was a bowl of cornflakes, which sounded reasonable, but later it turned out to be a ball of cornflakes, stuck together with condensed milk boiled down to syrup.

The best thing about Costa Rica is the water. People drink water out of the tap, just like we used to do in the United States, over thirty years ago. It tastes just fine. Ileana says the chlorine is added near the source, up the hill, and so it evaporates some on its way to our house in Heredia Centro. She says the water doesn’t taste as good farther up the hill.

According to an old travel book from 1996, most people in Costa Rica have only cold water in their houses. I believe this is changing with the influx of people from the United States. In the apartment I share with Ileana, we have a small electric water heater. Most houses use only electricity, I think because of the danger of earthquakes. I saw a gas range in the window of a store yesterday, but I’m guessing it was meant to run on propane, out on a covered patio or something.

In our apartment, the hot and cold water taps came from an English-speaking country, with H and C on the handles. But here the letters are reversed, with C for Caliente on the hot handle, and H on the cold one. Frio means cold, but I guess you could think of H as standing for Hielo, which means ice.

I had Costa Rican ice cream for the first time the other day at Fofo’s restaurant. Outside there was a sign saying there was a lunch special including beer for only ¢1700 colones, about $3.30. Not only did I get a huge glass mug of beer, but there was ice cream for dessert, creamy pink, white and brown; refreshing and not too sweet. I declared it the best ice cream I’d ever had. Ileana said it came from Pops. There are only two kinds of ice cream made in Costa Rica, Pops and Dos Pinos. You can get Haagen Dasz and the rest, but Costa Ricans don’t like them because they are too sweet.

Dos Pinos is the big dairy company here. Every store has this brand. It comes in boxes that don’t need to be refrigerated until you open them. I’m not too crazy about it, since I’ve been drinking only raw milk from glass bottles, made by local cows, for the last couple of years, and the boxed milk has almost no flavor, much like the pasteurized product in the U.S. I think a lot of people are frightened by flavor, since it might indicate or mask the presence of germs. Or something. I need to think about it more, to think about how I used to be when encountering things that contrasted strongly with my own biases and deeply held beliefs.

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Looking for a Home

Saturday, October 13, 2007

This morning I looked out our bedroom window toward the east as it began to get light. I was surprised to see a clear blue sky, with Venus shining above the mountains. It was 5am, and I suggested we go to the Feria de Agricultor, the farmer’s market. Last week we went over there around 10, and it was crowded and hot, not too much fun. Ily says it is best to go really early.

On the way we stopped at Mr. B, the 24 hour cafeteria down by the park to get some breakfast for Ily and coffee for me. There were police at the bar next door, one holding his baton, for a “borrachito,” someone a little drunk.

At Mr. B, Ileana ordered her usual breakfast, rice and beans (gallo pinto), and eggs. The guy at the counter said they were out of gallo pinto, but they were serving it to other people. Eventually we got some food and continued on to the Feria as the sun rose, where we looked again for leche agria, this time without success.

We looked at some fish the man said was corvina (sea bass) but the pieces were too big. He found some smaller pieces and we bought them.

On the way home we went to the mercado and bought leche agria, since I am obsessed with probiotic lactobacillus cultured products. We took it home and I had some, and we made a pot of coffee.

Then we decided to go look for a house to buy. Ily had heard there were houses available in La Aurora, near the high school where she teaches, also near Hewlett-Packard, where I might be able to work.

We took a taxi over there and drove around looking at numerous new developments, security-gated suburbs sprouting up everywhere among the coffee plantations. I took a picture of the street, and a small video of leaf-cutter ants (sampopas) near a coffee planation that turned out to be out of focus.

Finally we found an area that still had units for sale. We walked down the road and looked at places, called one on the phone. We looked at Ily’s faded green school and the great shiny green offices of Hewlett-Packard, planted like a glittering spaceship behind a great spiked fence in the poverty of La Aurora.

We took a taxi back to the development sales office and talked to a very helpful guy who showed us the insides of a couple of condominiums. The prices seemed reasonable and the quality good. We liked the places and we liked him. He even said his construction company could build a house on Ily’s lot in Heredia. He drove us over to a brand new section with only empty lots, a beautiful view over a stream with coffee bushes on the other side. Some cows were visible reclining on the grass over there. I heard a soothing sound that could have been the stream or wind rustling the coffee leaves. The soil of the empty lot was rich brown sandy-silt loam, totally fertile in appearance.

Then we talked to a woman across the street who showed us a couple of units in her development. They weren’t quite as nice, and more expensive as well. She wasn’t as rich and powerful as the other guy either, but she was very nice. Her Spanish had a bit of a French sound and I imagined she was from South America. Now Ily says she was from Argentina.

After this, we were feeling famished, so we hailed a taxi and went back to the apartment to cook the fish we bought this morning. It had a strong fishy smell, and Ily quickly determined that it was not corvina, but eel (anguila). She was angry about it, since she doesn’t like eel. I cut up celery, red peppers, cucumbers and tomato for a salad, as directed by Ileana. She cooked the fish and it was delicious. I ate a huge portion and felt really sleepy. We took a nap for awhile and my arm felt tingly when I woke up. I felt a bit cranky.

We went downstairs to Cafe Flores for coffee.We looked at the newspaper for houses again, and saw few possibilities. Ily called a couple of them. One lady said this was the only time she could show it, so we headed out into the rain and found another taxi to take us over there.

We called her from the taxi when we arrived and she came out to greet us. She spoke excellent English, which was nice for me. It turned out she was from Iran, and actually had two houses for sale, one for $75,000 and one for $120,000. We looked at the cheaper one first, inside a security gate and down a hill. The owner, an American from Chicago, was still living there, making his dinner when we trooped in to look it over. It was a nice little place, but too far down the hill for Ily’s taste.

The other house was much nicer as was to to be expected for the extra money. Then the lady, I think her name was Cynthia, invited us to her house for tea. Her house was a few doors down, with the front turned into a little grocery store (pulperia) where she worked with her husband. She is a psychologist and an artist. Her husband, Hooshidar, is a sculptor and musician. He brought out an Iranian instrument kind of like an autoharp and invited me to play it. Ileana played too, sounding much more musical than my experimental plinking.

The tea was from Iran too, and very good, with a bit of an Earl Grey flavor. Ileana noticed a blue color in the aura of our hostess and spoke about it, turning the conversation in a spiritual direction. We had a really nice time with them.

When the time came to go, the rain was pouring down in a true deluge, streaming deep in the gutters outside. No taxis were available, the line to the company was busy. It was rush hour. Fortunately, our hosts had a friend who had dropped by, and was heading in our direction. He took us down to the Mall nearby where we stood in line for about 15 minutes to get a taxi. Ily’s cotton shoes were wet and she needed to get home immediately to get warm and dry.

It was a really long day.

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