Thursday, May 27, 2010

Dinner with Stieg

Well, as Lily finds herself in Norteamerica ramping up for grad school, I am left fending for myself!

Last night, I documented my dinner.

(Self-conscious aside: Is this a classic example of a blogpost only of interest to the very blogger who blogged it?)

In fact, it was very tasty and I was pleasantly surprised by how complementary the flavors were. It was quite healthy, too, I believe.

Brazilian black bean soup (a rough Central American adaptation), using the appropriate quantities of the following ingredients:
> Slow-cooked black beans cooked with onion, cilantro and bay leaf
> Seared grass-fed beef tenderloin (helps when you can get top grade local tenderloin for just $3/pound!)
> Garlic, onions and diced fresh jalepenos sauteed in vegetable oil
> Bitter orange and lime juice
> Dried oregano
> Paprika
> Touch of habenero puree
> Touch of salt

For garnish:
> Cubed queso fresco
> Thinly sliced and fried flour tortilla

Plus steamed fresh broccoli, Stieg Larsson's The Girl Who Played with Fire and a glass of water.
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A wet contradiction

How is it that it has now rained roughly 2 inches in the last 48 hours in Matagalpa (praise to the Cocoa Gods and whomever else!) and there is no running water in the apartment right now?

The transition from verano (Summer/Dry season) to invierno (Winter/Wet season) is dramatic. All of a sudden everything is green, as if I had put on green-tinted lenses. Everything is humid. The temperature has dropped by a few degrees Celsius. Dry creek beds have become frothy torrents. Country roads become riskier, as certain bridges are destined to fail and other bridgeless stream-crossings will become impassable during the heavier rains.

Most of all, producers are happy. This dry season was long and hit hard.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Life with a 4 x 4

When Josh and Lily got their Mazda 4x4 in March, the country shrank. Despite a bribe-seeking police force, hectic highways and abysmal backcountry terrain, the access is an incredible advantage. Here is visual proof:

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Images from the campo

Here are a few more angles at life on Juan Carlos' farm


Hide of the cow killed just the day before we arrived. Most of our meals were thanks to her!

Our sleeping quarters

Grain storage
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Relaxing on the farm, cont'd

Naturally, the spear fishing (see previous blog entry below) did not stop at the point of capture. Don Isaiah, prepared a cauldron of boiling pig fat from his farm, in which we sizzled and fried up the catch on the nearest beach. Here is Isaiah offering gourmet deliciousness to the next available lucky taker. Man in innertube featured behind was the star spear fisher. Every 15 minutes or so, he would recharge with a shot of Flor de Cana rum and a sip of Coke to keep his senses sharp.

(3) Cattle herding. Apologies for the disorganization but recall that highlights #1 and #2 were Pinolillo and Fishing/Eating respectively (blog entry below). Here the cattle herding team is pictured. From left to right: Laura, Armando (farm manager), Becca, Juan Carlos and son Jan Carlos (no "u"!), and Josh.

Goal for the day: tour the farm, some 300 acres, and move 65 heads of cattle from a pasture back to the corral for individual inspections.

Note: Laura and Josh did not have what we might call much experience with horses, let alone herding cattle.

Becca, Juan and Jan keeping the big guys in line.

By the end of the day Josh felt quite comfortable on horseback... He decided to go for a little sunset stroll solo here:
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Visiting Juan Carlos' Farm

Over Semana Santa (Holy Week, which culminates in Easter), Josh and his good friends from college Laura and Becca, drove 8 hours east into the northern autonomous region of the Atlantic to the farm of Josh's colleague Juan Carlos. His family was so welcoming to us, and we feel incredibly lucky to have spent 4 days living on remote cattle ranch, positioned on the picturesque Rio Prinzapolka.

Highlights included:

(1) Milking cows directly into our cups for Pinolillo. Pinolillo is a traditional Nicaraguan drink of toasted corn, cacao, sugar and warm milk. Normally, a whisk is used to froth the ingredients together... but that is for the unfortunate people without direct access to a cow. The milk comes out of the teet at the perfect velocity to froth the pinolillo naturally! Here, Becca is milking into her cup (already containing the corn, cacao and sugar).

It is essentially the Nicaraguan equivalent of an Egg Cream. In the corral, Josh feels at home just as he would in any Jewish Deli.

(2) Spear fishing on the river, with dugout canoe as the principal form of transport.

Juan Carlos' neighbor Isaiah shows off a collection of Guapote trout.
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Xoco Photoshoot

In preparation for introducing ourselves to the marketplace, we have been working on a video short to summarize Xoco's business model, product offerings and operations... It should be live within the next 10 days or so, and I will be sure to post the link on the blog. I thought I would post a few somewhat humerous photos of the shooting.

Here I am exhibiting a mature grafted fine cocoa plant in the nursery in Sebaco, Nicaragua, where we currently have roughly a half million live cocoa plants in inventory:

Frank (CEO) is giving a welcome spiel. We trekked out to the remote countryside to an ancient cocoa plantation to get many of our takes.

Here we are setting up shots of the cocoa harvest:
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Seder y Primos nuevamente

Meandering the pastoral landscape of Miraflor...

Flora in Reserva Miraflor

Batidos "estilo norteamericano" ... after an arduous campo road back from Miraflor, we encountered el Palacio de los Batidos, owned by a Nica entrepreneur whose concrete "palacio" seeks to create the perfect smoothie on the deserted Jinotega-Matagalpa highway. Cousins were not disappointed.

Becca and Josh continued their 6-year tradition of hosting Passover Seder, with the inaugural out-of-country event! Here Becca reads from the Haggadah, as Jonathan focuses on the 3rd cup of wine.

Several key substitutions on the Seder plate:
Lamb --> Pelibuey (tropical, wool-less sheep)
Matzoh --> Guirila (fresh, thick corn tortilla)
Orange --> Naranja agria (bitter orange)
Manishevitz --> Chilean Cabernet and Argintinean Malbec

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Primos en Nicaragua

Lucky Primo Josh had the privilege of a visit from his beloved primos Kate and Jonathan in late-March. They spontaneously decided to tour Nicaragua, with their first stop in Josh and Lily's home base of Matagalpa. They proceeded to the Reserva Natural de Miraflor, roughly a 2 hour drive northwest of Matagalpa.

Our adventurecito included several spottings of the rare scissor-tail hawk (and many many many other aviary species!):

A baseball game, with certain obstacles in left field:

The rising moon in late afternoon:

An adventerous Pelibuey:
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