Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Gallo Pinto of Love


The recent dearth of postings has been caused by 1) the phenomenon of the holidays sucking time and resources into a black hole where normally only socks go; and 2) bone tired despite having one of the "good" IV treatments last week instead of the "bad" ones.

Friends of ours traveled to Costa Rica yesterday. Just before they left I sent them an email listing all the foods they need to try while they are down there. That led me to review Costa Rica's official website, which led me to their recipe page, which caused my salivary glands to produce at an astounding rate. Do you have any idea how much I love gallo pinto with Lizano sauce?? Or how unfair life is that I haven't had pejibayes or guanabanas for a decade??

My mother is Costa Rican. Her mother, my Abuelita, owned a boarding house in the little town of Puerto Jimenez. My American father traveled to Costa Rica with his parents in the early 1960's. His father bought property and had a farm in the country for a time and needed a place to stay while in Puerto Jimenez and thus found Abuelita's boarding house. To this day my dad believes that Costa Rican women are the most beautiful in the world and it didn't take long for him to notice that the boarding house woman's middle daughter very lovely.

Three months later they married in a local church. They moved to the States where my sister was born 11 months later and I nearly six years after that. Then, when I was still a baby, we moved back to Costa Rica and stayed there while I became plump with gallo pinto and platanos maduros. I must have felt that all of Costa Rica deserved tasting when I plucked a piece of dried mud off of my grandfather's shoe and ate it before my parents could stop me. Like all tropical countries, CR is full of naughty parasites and I had introduced my tummy to them. I soon became very sick and was hospitalized. The treatment that finally killed the parasite started destroying my kidneys and so I was brought back to the States where I underwent more treatment and recuperated, not to return to CR for more than twenty years.

In my early twenties my mother went to CR to visit her family for the first time since we'd rushed away. She came back with a jar of pejibayes. I didn't recognize those little palm fruits but I was eager to try them. When the first forkful hit my tongue I immediately recalled the flavor from my babyhood. Amazing! I was tickled and comforted at the same time. I loved pejibayes when I was a baby and my taste buds had a greater memory than any sight or sound. I went back to CR when I was 24 and couldn't get enough of the food. Dad and I sat in a local cafe and drank guanabana milkshakes. I stuffed myself with mamon (fresh lychee fruit), papayas and pineapple. I tasted cacao, the fresh fruit that becomes chocolate. I ate steamed pejibayes in paper cups from the street vendors. I devoured gallo pinto topped with salsa Lizano and a side of fried farmer's cheese for breakfast, mopping it up with bread fresh from the bakery. I brought home vanilla beans and made my own vanilla extract and vanilla sugar.

Excuse me while I'm mop the drool.

Why have I not made gallo pinto myself? This is a genuine mystery. But it is my resolution (it being a New Year, no?) to make a genuine Costa Rican meal. I've found that I can order a jar of pejibayes on the Internet, along with Salsa Lizano. It will be a while before I can take my own family to meet my Costa Rican family for the first time, but in the meantime my girls will become familiar with those wonderful flavors.

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