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(506) 2223-1327         Published Thursday, Jan. 27, 2011,  in Vol. 11, No. 19           E-mail us
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Japanaese visitors at monument
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública photo/Sergio López Murillo
Prince Akishino, the second son of Japanese Emperor Akihito, and his wife, Princess Kiko, approach the Monumento de los Héroes in Parque Nacional escorted by Renee Castro, the
foreign minister, and preceded by Fuerza Pública officers carrying a commemorative wreath.

See story, HERE!

High schoolers honored for innovative projects
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Intel Corp. is sending 10 Costa Rican youngsters to its international science fair in Los Angeles, and the innovations developed by the students are a long way from typical high school work.

There is a robot. There is a fungus that will kill mosquito eggs. A solar collector runs a motor. Work at the cellular level aims to produce resistant hybrids. And a vest helps the disabled learn music via vibrations.

Francela Rojas Simpson of the Centro Educativo Bilingüe del Caribe in Limón developed the solar reflectors that cause a motor to run because its internal air is heated.

Franklin Chacón Huete, Dylan Andrés Bartels Mora and Juan Carlos Cambronero Heinrichs of the Colegio Científico de Costa Rica in San Pedro are using a naturally occurring fungus to infect the eggs of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is the primary vector for dengue fever.

Franklin Blanco Solano, Fabián Badilla Cambronero and Alessa Calderón Acuña of the Colegio Científico de Costa Rica in San Carlos are isolating the protoplasm of plant species that are susceptible and tolerant to certain funguses, bacterias and parasites in order to create hybrids

José Miguel Gonzalez Arias and Nicole Alexandra
science projects
    Francela Rojas             The versitile robot

Mena Mora of the Colegio Técnico Don Bosco created a vest that contains seven sensors that will allow the disabled to experience the musical notes because each vibrating device reacts to a different note.

Luis Gerardo León Vega of the Colegio José María Gutiérrez created the robotic prototype that is designed for industrial use and the handling of materials that are dangerous to humans. The robot is controlled by wire, automatically by programming or by computer. The robot also can be controlled via the Internet.

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A.M. Costa Rica's professional directory is where business people who wish to reach the English-speaking community may invite responses. If you are interested in being represented here, please contact the editor.

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Legal services

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The registration of Burke Fiduciary S.A., corporate ID 3-101-501917 with the  General Superintendence of Financial Entities (SUGEF) is not an authorization  to operate. The supervision of SUGEF refers to compliance with the capital legitimization requirements of Law No. 8204. SUGEF does not supervise the
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Ms. Chinchilila and japanese visitors
Casa Presidencial photo
Ms. Chinchilla shakes hands with the prince while his wife chats with René Castro, the foreign minister.

President praises Japan
for supporting the country

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Laura Chinchilla praised Japan as a strong supporter of Costa Rica when she met with Prince Akishino, the second son of Japanese Emperor Akihito, and his wife, Princess Kiko.

The president had particular praise for two envirornmentally oriented projects. One is a $9 million agreement with the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad for a solar power project. The other is an $8 million project to conserve forests.

Curiously, according to a summary provided by Casa Presidencial, the president did not mention the $130 million that Japan is putting up for the languishing Central Valley sewer project being designed by the Instituto Nacional de Acueductos y Alcantarillados.

All of the projects are channeled through the Japanese Agency International cooperation.

Ms. Chinchilla did note that Japan has been a strong supporter of the youth symphony orchestras with the donation of 142 musical instruments. Japan also donated money to improve the audio system in Teatro Nacional.

The Japanese visitors are here through Sunday to mark the 75th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

The visitors and Ms. Chinchilla attended a recital Wednesday night of the Orquestra Sinfónica Juvenil.

Costa Rican feelings mixed
about jailing of businessman

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Ricans are of mixed minds about the jailing of the well-known businessman Minor Vargas Calvo in the United States.

In addition to his business interests, Vargas is a former president of the Brujas professional soccer team and continues a relationship with Barrio México, another first division team.

Some Costa Ricans have said that the United States is being too harsh in not letting Vargas return to Costa Rica on bail. He faces a fraud case involving some $670 million in bonds that prosecutors say are false.

The problem for Vargas is that Costa Rica's Constitution does not allow the extradition of citizens. So if Vargas returned to Costa Rica he would have the option of remaining here along with several dozen other Costa Ricans who are wanted by U.S. authorities. However, Vargas also is being investigated here. Local prosecutors and investigators searched some of his business holdings earlier in the week.

El Diario Extra published a news story about Vargas Wednesday in which it recounted a day he might spend at his current location, the New York Metropolitan Correctional Center. The newspaper noted that he would be wearing an orange coverall and be sleeping in as bunk bed in the cold New York climate. He might relax by playing ping pong, the newspaper said.

Some of the business holdings maintained by Vargas discharged workers Wednesday. Vargas appears to have directly controled a lot of the business funds, and with him in prison there is insufficient money to keep the businesses open. The soccer teams are another matter. Others have taken control. However, one owner of a soccer franchise reported he was holding a bad check Vargas gave him just before leaving for the United States.

The U.S. indictment charges Costa Rica-based Provident Capital Indemnity Ltd., Vargas, 59, and Jorge Castillo, 55, each with one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, three counts of mail fraud and three counts of wire fraud.   The indictment also seeks forfeiture of more than $40 million from all three defendants.   Vargas was arrested Jan. 18 at the John F. Kennedy International Airport, and Castillo was arrested Jan. 19 in New Jersey.

According to the indictment, Vargas, is the president and majority owner of Provident Capital, an insurance and reinsurance company registered in the Commonwealth of Dominica and doing business in Costa Rica. Castillo, a resident of New Jersey, is the purported independent auditor for Provident Capital.  If convicted, Vargas and Castillo face up to 20 years in prison on each count.

The defendants allegedly engaged in a scheme to defraud clients and investors by making misrepresentations about Provident Capital’s reinsurers, Provident Capital’s financial statements and Provident Capital’s Dun and Bradstreet rating, in connection with Provident Capital’s marketing and sale of financial guarantee bonds to companies that sold life settlements or securities backed by life settlements to investors, the government said. Provident Capital’s bonds were marketed as a way to eliminate one of the primary risks of investing in life settlements, namely the possibility that the individual insured by the underlying life insurance policy will live beyond his or her life expectancy, it added.

Find out what the papers
said today in Spanish

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Here is the section where you can scan short summaries from the Spanish-language press. If you want to know more, just click on a link and you will see and longer summary and have the opportunity to read the entire news story on the page of the Spanish-language newspaper but translated into English.

Translations may be a bit rough, but software is improving every day.

When you see the Summary in English of news stories not covered today by A.M. Costa Rica, you will have a chance to comment.

This is a new service of A.M. Costa Rica called Costa Rica Report. Editor is Daniel Woodall, and you can contact him HERE!

From the Costa Rican press
News items posted Monday through Friday by 8 a.m.
Click a story for the summary

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Jan. 27, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 19
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Business chamber protests gender law for private groups
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The nation's business chamber has filed an appeal against a law that went into effect in December that requires equal participation of men and women on the boards of private organizations. The chamber noted that there are many organizations that are exclusively for men and exclusively for women. Plus it said the law violates the principal of free association.

The chamber, the Unión de Costarricense de Cámaras y Asociaciones del Sector Empresarial Privado, said that the law violates reason as well as treaties with the International Labour Organization.

The law specifically targets associations, unions and
 solidarista organizations which are employee benefit groups in many companies.

The law seems to have been passed and gone into effect without any publicity. It is an extension of the laws governing politics that mandate a certain number of women on the ballot for each political party.

The chamber said that the associations involved are outside of the power of the state to regulate. It said each organization can establish its own constitution and regulations.

The filing said that some organizations would have to go outside its membership to find directors of the correct gender.

Coin and paper money collectors to show their wares
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Museos del Banco Central, better known as the gold museum, is hosting a money exchange Saturday where collectors will gather, swap and sell bills, coins and the unique Costa Rican coffee token.

The event begins at 11 a.m. in the museum lobby, which is under the Plaza de la Cultura.

The tables usually are set up not far from the Museo de Numismática, which documents the use of money in Costa Rica from the arrival of the first European settlers.

The museum complex is perhaps better known for its Museo del Oro Precolombino, which contains a world-class collection of gold, jade and stone carvings and artifacts.

The collectors who are exhibiting Saturday include
 professionals and amateurs. They are not restricted to Costa Rica items, and some have extensive collections from around the world. Not all is for sale.

The tokens were used on coffee plantations to avoid the use of money. Each collector of coffee received a token for each basket or cajuela that they brought to the collection point. Later these tokens or boletos would be turned in for real money or sometimes spent on their own in or near the plantation.

Coffee beans ripen at different times on the same plant, so human labor still is used today.

The tokens come in different denominations to account for different types of coffee beans or different sized baskets. Many are unique to a particular plantation.

They make good souvenirs as artifacts from another era.

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Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública
Anti-drug agents detain one of the men who is a suspect in the Jamaican marijuana ring.

Month is shaping up to be a bad one for drug rings

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

This month is a bad one for suspects believed involved in the drug trade.

In a series of raids Wednesday, anti-drug police detained suspected marijuana smugglers in locations around the country including at the Jamaican Grill, a restaurant in San Pedro.

In the Talamanca, police confiscated two lots of marijuana and detained five persons in two separate cases.

Meanwhile from Europe came word of 10 arrests and the confiscation of more than 100 kilos of cocaine in a container filled with pineapples that originated in Pital de San Carlos.

The Jamaicans are suspected of smuggling high red marijuana from their home island. This is supposed to be a stronger version than locally grown marijuana. Wednesday in Limón and in the Central Valley police detained seven suspects and confiscated 25 kilos of marijuana.

Three buildings were raided in Barrio Cariari and Barrio Corales in Limón. A 26-year-old man with the name of Brown was detained there. Four other persons who may be in the country illegally, were located there.

In the Central Valley, two locations were raided in Curridabat. One was in Barrio La Lila and the other was in Barrio Abbedules. And there was the raid of the Jamaican Grill.

Detained in these raids was a 33-year-old man with the last name of Washington and a Jamaican woman with the last name of Wilson. She is 23.
Agents said that the marijuana was brought into Costa Rica via Honduras and Nicaragua to Limón. There have been confiscations of marijuana in Nicaragua and Honduras. There also have been arrests that agents related to this organization as far back as last May.

The arrests in the Talamanca involved locally grown marijuana.  One confiscation was in Alto Telire and the other in Valle la Estrella, said agents. Four persons were detained at a house on the Reserva Indigena Hitoi Cerete and 110 grams of prepared marijuana were confiscated, agents said.

In Valle la Estrella agents confiscated 100 grams from a man relaxing near the local soccer field.

Police have been investigating the European cocaine smuggling case for months. British police made arrests earlier this month, agents here said Wednesday. The investigation here was at the request of British police.

Agents said that the British reported that a man named Steven Caslaganu and another named Anthony Brown were coordinating shipments from here. During the investigation the suspects shipped eight or nine containers with pineapple to Europe. One container was intercepted in Rotterdam. Holland Jan. 4. It contained 106 kilos of cocaine, agents here said. That was the container from San Carlos that left Moín Dec. 22, agents said.

Agents said that Anthony Brown was associated with Oska Catering Liverpol Ltda., which sent the containers. Caslaganu was detained in a London hotel, agents said. One of the total of 10 persons held was a man identified as Adrian Brown, who was reported to be a former policeman.

Health officials in Haiti are facing a deadly mystery illness

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Officials from the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization, along with colleagues from Haiti’s Ministry of Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are looking into four deadly cases of paralysis in recovering cholera patients in Haiti, and are likely to rule out polio as a cause, pending laboratory results. 

Experts including toxicologists are investigating possible contamination at a hospital or at home from medication, food, or another source as the cause of death in these cases. Health officials are conducting field studies and will report their findings as soon as laboratory results are available. 

Polio was one of the first possibilities looked into because of the public health implications. However, the clinical characteristics and epidemiology of these cases make poliomyelitis a remote possibility, said the Pan American Health Organization. In simple terms, polio does not produce a high mortality rate, it said. Although considered highly unlikely, polio has not been completely ruled out, pending laboratory results of samples. 

The agency has suggested that health officials remain vigilant for further cases and has supported local health authorities in the investigation with technical staff  including
epidemiologists, a clinician and an immunization nurse to continue the investigations. A nurse returned from visiting the affected communities Monday with samples from some of the families.

Field epidemiologists and local health authorities from the Department of Nord-Ouest first reported a cluster of acute neurological syndromes in that department Jan. 10. As of Monday, four cases with acute neurological syndrome, including three deaths, were reported, with dates of onset from November to December 2010 in the La Pointe area, Commune Port-de-Paix, and the neighboring commune of Saint Louis du Nord. All of the cases were seen at the same cholera treatment center and returned two to four days later with neurological symptoms, at which point they were hospitalized.

Polio was eradicated from the Americas in 1994, three years after the last case was reported in Junín, Peru. A global polio eradication initiative was launched in 1988 and has reduced the incidence of polio worldwide by more than 99 percent. When it was launched in 1988, more than 350,000 children were paralyzed in more than 125 countries. In 2009, 1,595 children were paralyzed in 24 countries. Today, only four countries remain endemic: Afghanistan, India, Nigeria, and Pakistan, and in those countries with endemic poliovirus transmission, cases of poliomyelitis had declined by 85 percent in 2010 compared to the same period in 2009.

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solar panel
University of Michigan Engineering photo/Danial Kim
June Energy's Emerald portable solar panel can recharge a smartphone in the same time it would take plugged in at an outlet.

Engineering students create
cheap, portable solar device

By the University of Michigan news staff

As a child in Mali, Abdrahamane Traoré often did his homework by the sooty, dim light of a kerosene lamp.

As an adult in Michigan, he sometimes has a tough time getting a hold of his family back home. To keep a cell phone charged, Traoré’s mother must walk to a neighboring village.

Electricity isn’t always a plug away in much of the developing world. That’s why Traoré and University of Michigan engineering student Md. Shanhoor Amin teamed up to develop the Emerald, a personal solar panel the size of a paperback.

The young engineers are the founders of June Energy, an award-winning start-up spending its second semester in the TechArb student business incubator. The company recently received more than $500,000 in venture capital, and it’s about to ship its first 40 domestic orders. Amin and Traoré, along with chief technical officer Allan Taylor, are planning a trip to Kenya and Mali later this semester to test their prototype with the people for whom it was primarily designed.
Amin, who will graduate in April with a master’s in energy systems engineering, says the Emerald is unique.

“There are products now that offer either discrete lighting or basic electricity, but not both. And these products are expensive due to high internal component costs,”  Amin said. “We’ve developed circuitry that solves both of these problems affordably.”

The company’s goal is to get the price under $20 for its customers in the developing world.

For lighting, the Emerald uses energy-efficient light-emitting diodes, or LEDs. It gives reading light for at least eight hours.

“Kerosene lamps provide 60 lumens of light, which is really not much,” Amin said. “It strains the eyes. Our product can give up to 100 lumens, which is really ample for reading at night time.”

Other reasons the developers say the Emerald is better than kerosene: The fuel can get expensive, and it isn’t healthy to breathe in the lamp smoke. Kerosene is the primary cause of respiratory illness in regions where it is commonly used, Amin said.

“I knew the lamp was harmful to my lungs, but I didn’t have access to anything better,” Traoré said.

For cell phone charging, the Emerald has USB and cell phone ports and it will come with a bag of adapters. It can fully charge a smartphone in the same time it would take at an outlet, developers say.

It recharges in full sunlight in three hours.

For your international reading pleasure:

News of Nicaragua
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News of Cuba      News of Venezuela
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News of Panamá
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News of Bolivia     News of Ecuador

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Obama planning visits
to Latin America in March

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. President Barack Obama says in his State of the Union speech that he will travel to Latin America in March.

In his prepared remarks, President Obama says he will travel to Brazil, Chile and El Salvador to forge new alliances for progress in the Americas.  Two years ago, Obama visited Trinidad and Tobago to attend the 34-nation summit of the Americas. 

Last March, the president met with Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes in Washington, and pledged U.S. support for efforts to strengthen the economy of that Central American nation.

Obama said the U.S. wants to be an equal partner with El Salvador and other countries in the region.  For his part, the Salvadoran leader said he hopes Washington will be a strategic partner to counter the problems of drug trafficking and organized crime.

Separately, President Obama notes in his speech that the United States will pursue free trade agreements with Panamá and Colombia, and will continue Asia-Pacific and global trade talks.

Earlier Tuesday, a top Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives said Congress should move quickly to approve the pending agreements with Colombia, Panamá and South Korea.

Dave Camp, the new chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, called for the deals to be approved in the next six months.

He said the deadline is being driven by the need to create jobs for American workers.  He also urged President Obama to set a timeline during the State of the Union address for passing those deals.

The three agreements were signed in 2007 during the administration of President George W. Bush.  The deals have been held up mostly because of Democratic lawmakers' concerns, including provisions in the South Korea deal affecting the U.S. auto industry, and labor rights complaints in Colombia.

The top Democrat on the Ways and Means committee, Sander Levin, expressed optimism that the agreements could be approved with some changes.

In prepared remarks Tuesday, he said the pacts should not be considered all at the same time, but individually, based on their own merits.

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Scientists find mechanism that makes broccoli a cancer fighter
By the American Chemical Society

Scientists are reporting discovery of a potential biochemical basis for the apparent cancer-fighting ability of broccoli and its veggie cousins. They found for the first time that certain substances in the vegetables appear to target and block a defective gene associated with cancer. Their report, which could lead to new strategies for preventing and treating cancer, appears in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry.

Fung-Lung Chung and colleagues showed in previous experiments that substances called isothiocyanates found in broccoli, cauliflower, watercress, and other cruciferous vegetables appear to stop the growth of cancer. But nobody knew exactly how these substances work, a key to developing
 improved strategies for fighting cancer in humans.

The scientists studied the effects of certain naturally-occurring  isothiocyanates on a variety of cancer cells. They found that I isothiocyanates are capable of removing defective protein in a certain gene but apparently leave the normal ones alone. Drugs based on natural or custom-engineered isothiocyanates could improve the effectiveness of current cancer treatments or lead to new strategies for treating and preventing cancer.

The tumor suppressor gene p53 appears to play a key role in keeping cells healthy and preventing them from starting the abnormal growth that is a hallmark of cancer. When mutated, p53 does not offer that protection, and those mutations occur in half of all human cancers, they said.

pouring champagne
American Checmical Society photo
The best way to preserve the CO2 is down the side!
After intensive research, hic!,
champagne secret is revealed

By the American Chemical Society news service

In a study that may settle a long-standing disagreement over the best way to pour a glass of champagne, scientists in France are reporting that pouring bubbly in an angled, down-the-side way is best for preserving its taste and fizz. The study also reports the first scientific evidence confirming the importance of chilling champagne before serving to enhance its taste, the scientists say.

Their report appears in ACS’ bi-weekly Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry: “On the Losses of Dissolved CO2 during Champagne Serving.”

Gérard Liger-Belair and colleagues note that tiny bubbles are the essence of fine champagnes and sparkling wines. Past studies indicate that the bubbles — formed during the release of large amounts of dissolved carbon dioxide gas — help transfer the taste, aroma, and mouth-feel of champagne. Scientists long have suspected that the act of pouring a glass of bubbly could have a big impact on gas levels in champagne and its quality. Until now, however, no scientific study had been done.

The scientists studied carbon dioxide loss in champagne using two different pouring methods. One involved pouring champagne straight down the middle of a glass. The other involved pouring champagne down the side of an angled glass. They found that pouring champagne down the side preserved up to twice as much carbon dioxide in champagne than pouring down the middle — probably because the angled method was gentler. They also showed that cooler champagne temperatures (ideally, 39 degrees F) help reduce carbon dioxide loss.

Quest for perfect loaf of bread
becomes a year-long effort

By the A.M. Costa rica wire services

Few things in life are as simple or complex as bread.

The same four essential ingredients — flour, water, yeast and salt — can yield 10,000 different combinations.

That's what author William Alexander discovered when he embarked on a year-long odyssey to re-create the perfect loaf of peasant bread. In the process, he says, he learned an important lesson about baking and life.

For most of his life, William Alexander didn't really care much about bread.

"As a kid I never liked bread," he says. "I grew up in the 1950 and 1960s with this horrible cellophane-wrapped pre-sliced white bread. It wasn't until just a few years ago that I tasted real bread. I never knew bread could be this good; the crust was this dark brown, sweet crust that turned chewy in your mouth. And the crumbs, rather than being like dense and mushy like white bread, it was this open-celled, almost honey-combed crumb. It just had a wonderful yeasty smell, just a delicious flavor."

Alexander, who had never baked before, says he knew the only way to have this kind of bread again was to learn how to make it himself. He started, literally, from the ground up.

"I planted my own wheat and harvested and threshed and winnowed and ground that wheat into flour," he says. "I even built a hole in my backyard, took mud that came out of that hole and made a clay oven to bake the bread."

Alexander baked a loaf every week for a year. He says it was an exciting learning experience.

"What happened was with each failed loaf, a new questions arose. When the bread didn't rise, I started wondering what yeast was, so I went to visit a yeast factory."

Alexander chronicles those experiences in his book, "52 Loaves: One Man's Relentless Pursuit of Truth, Meaning and a Perfect Crust."

"I wanted to go to a place where bread mattered to people," he says. "There had recently been riots in Morocco due to the cost of wheat going up, so I traveled there to bake alongside Arab women in a large village oven. It was the largest oven I'd ever seen. They all brought their own bread there. They would put a mark on it so they would know their family's bread and leave it with the baker. Then they would come back later in the day."

In the course of his bread quest, Alexander won second place in the New York State Fair bread competition. He enrolled in a bread-making seminar in Paris, and spent a few days at an abbey in Normandy, France, where he taught the monks how to make the traditional abbey bread.

"That was about three quarters into my year of baking," he adds. "When I found a medieval abbey in France that said they had been baking for 1,300 years, but had lost the last monk who knew how to bake bread, I volunteered to come over and bake some bread for them. They came back and said, 'Sure, that sounds like a good idea, but could you train a monk to bake while you are here?' I suddenly realized I was in this absurd situation: I am an amateur baker, I hadn't been in a church in years, I barely speak French, and found myself going over to try to restore the lost 1,300-year-old tradition of baking at the abbey."

When Alexander's year long bread making adventure came to its end, he realized that the perfect loaf of bread he was after was whatever loaf he was baking at the time.

This was not Alexander's only attempt to produce his own food. In his previous book, "The $64 Tomato," he chronicled the joys and frustrations of growing his own vegetables.

Chayote are peeled easily and the large seed inside comes out easily.
Cutting chayote
A.M. Costa Rica file photo

Chayote: The all-purpose
MesoAmerican treat

By Saray Ramírez Vindas
From the A.M. Costa Rica archives

The chayote looks like a big, wrinkled green or white pear. But it really is a gourd and a type of squash.

You can eat it creamed, buttered, fried, stuffed, baked, frittered, boiled, mashed and pickled, food experts note. And in Costa Rica it is the all-purpose veggie.

The chayote (Sechium edule) has a long history associated with the pre-Columbian peoples of Central America, and you can’t be here for long without finding one on your plate.

The vegetable can weight up to a pound, and there is a big seed inside that is not eaten. Once the skin and seed are removed, the white flesh remains and is the part that is eaten. The vegetable is so much a part of Costa Rica that to visit or live here without trying it is like never trying gallo pinto or Cerveza Imperial.

Perhaps the best way to eat chayote is chopped up in a mixture of other foods, a picadillo with sausage, chicken, carrots, corn, potatoes, onions and other MesoAmerican staples.

The final dish, eaten with small tortillas, not only is tasty but also colorful. Plus the dish always is a success because proportions of various ingredients are highly variable. Use what you have!

The recipe for picadillos is not exact. Mostly anything goes.

You need:

     5-6 chayotes
     2-3 carrots
     1 full sausage
     two ears corn kernels (or small can)
     2-3 medium potatoes
     2 heads of garlic
     5-6 sprigs of basil

Chop up in small pieces the chorizo or sausage and brown in a fry pan along with chopped garlic.

Peel and cut up chayote, carrots and potatoes into small pieces and boil until tender. Drain and set aside.

Do the same with corn: Boil the kernels gently.

Chop up basil, too, and add to the nearly browned sausage.

Put all ingredients into one big pot, put on heat and stir.

Arrange attractively with garnishes of carrots or other handy vegetables. Don’t forget the basil.

Serve with warmed small tortillas or rice a su gusto.

Originally published March 28, 2003.

The finished product is a colorful dish.
Chayote chopped up
A.M. Costa Rica file photo

lobster and vanilla
The finished masterpiece

Lobster and vanilla simply
cry out for some champagne

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

La Luz executive chef Carlos Zuñiga spent 20 years learning to cook in U.S. East Coast restaurants.  Lobster was plentiful, and some of the recipes were quite exotic.  When he returned to Costa Rica, he brought the recipes with him.

Champagne Vanilla Lobster is one of four lobster tail specials (the others include Rockefeller, Fra Diablo, and Orillineta) all served Valentine's Day Weekend at La Luz Restaurant in The Alta Hotel, Alto de las Palomas, Santa Ana.

More information about dining there is HERE!

Champagne Vanilla Lobster

A sauce of vanilla bean and champagne with lobster over fettuccini pasta.


½ cup champagne
1 vanilla bean (split down the middle)
½ cup cleaned spinach leaves
3 tablespoons cream
1 tablespoon butter
2 lobster tails
¼ pound fettuccini (white or spinach)
2 tablespoons scallions


1.Simmer champagne and vanilla bean.  Reduce the liquid.
      Add the spinach leaves.
2.Add cream and cook.
3.Whisk in the butter.  Season with pepper.  Salt to taste (we try
      not to use too much). 
4.Discard the vanilla bean.
5.Add the lobster tails until cooked (will vary with size).
6.Cook the pasta in boiling water.
7.Remove the lobster tail and add the pasta.  Stir. Warm pasta
      but don’t cook.
8.Place pasta and sauce in center of plate.  Turn lobster tail inside
      out and place on top of pasta.  Garnish plate with scallions.

Researchers find that wine tastes
better when the light is correct

By the University of Mainz news service

The background lighting provided in a room has an influence on how wine tastes. This is the result of a survey conducted by researchers at the Institute of Psychology at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, Germany. Several sub-surveys were conducted in which about 500 participants were asked how they liked a particular wine and how much they would pay for it. It was found that the same wine was rated higher when exposed to red or blue ambient light rather than green or white light. The test persons were even willing to spend in excess of one euro more on a specific bottle of Riesling when it was offered in red instead of green light.

"It is already known that the color of a drink can influence the way we taste it," says Daniel Oberfeld-Twistel of the General Experimental Psychology division. "We wanted to know whether background lighting, for example in a restaurant, makes a difference as well."

The survey showed, among other things, that the test wine was perceived as being nearly 1.5 times sweeter in red light than in white or green light. Its fruitiness was also most highly rated in red light. Accordingly, one conclusion of the study is that the color of ambient lighting can influence how wine tastes, even when there is no direct effect on the color of the drink.

"The extreme lighting conditions found in some bars can undoubtedly influence the way a wine tastes," concludes Oberfeld-Twistel. He also recommends that serious wine tasting should be conducted in a neutral light color environment.

Perhaps a partial explanation of why lighting influences the way humans taste wine is that in pleasant lighting conditions, individuals also regard the wine as being more pleasant too. Additional research is planned.

The many seeds can be removed easily

Agricultural officials try
to boost unappreciated papaya

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Agricultural officials are trying to give a boost to the unappreciated papaya to increase local consumption and exports.

The Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería is promoting the fruit for its health benefits and said that there are about 1,000 hectares (about 2,500 acres) planted of the fruit in the country. Most of the production is in Pococí, Guácimo, La Fortuna de San Carlos, Paquera, Parrita and Orotina, the ministry said.

The fruit has an unusual taste that grows on consumers like a good scotch whiskey. Pineapple and mango seem to be more preferred in a fruit plate, but papaya does not have the sharp taste. Dried papaya can be a sweet treat.

The ministry touts the vitamins C and A that are contained within the fruit. The Universidad de Costa Rica has produced a new variety, payapa perfecta, that does not have a strong odor, and the tall papaya trees usually produce fruit of about the same size, perfect for marketing. The flavor is supposed to be better, too. Most papaya grown here is of this variety.

The tree actually is a big herb. The fruit sells cheaply in the marketplace, and the ministry notes that it has been lauded for its aid to digestion. Papaya also can be used as a meat tenderizer. Some Costa Ricans wrap meat in papaya leaves. Commercially it is a powder sold as a tenderizer. The seeds can be eaten. Some cooks grind them and serve them like pepper for their sharp taste.

Papaya now is exported to Canada, and the ministry hopes to increase exports to Europe.

Papaya is believed to be native to Central America. Mexican residents were eating the fruit long before the rise of the great civilizations. Now the fruit is produced all over the tropical world.

In Spanish it is called melón zapote, mamao, naimi, capaídso, fruta bomba, lechosa, mamón, mampucha, pucha and paque. In some countries papaya is not a word for mixed company, so substitutes have been created.

vanilla pods
Photo courtesy of Henry Karczynski          
These vanilla pods still are on the vine

Rare vanilla spice from Quepos
produced in fully organic setting

By Donna Norton

Special to A.M. Costa Rica
Chefs and hobby cooks from around the world visit Villa Vanilla, a certified organic/biodynamic spice farm operated by Henry Karczynski in Villanueva near Quepos.  The farm grows a variety of spices and essential oil plants, including vanilla, cocoa, and ceylon cinnamon.

The farm got international notice when it was the recipient of the periodic  "Longest Vanilla Bean" award in August 2008.  An independent vanilla Web site awarded this honor to the farm, proclaiming it to be the ultimate organic vanilla producer. The farm produced beans from 9.5 to 10.5 inches or from 24.5 cm to 26.5 cm. The award is a way of highlighting top vanilla producers.

Karczynski, a soft-spoken man and a U.S. expatriate with an MBA from Illinois, found his calling as a farmer while serving in the Peace Corps.  "Happiness and success are not defined by one´s amount of financial wealth," he said. "I enjoy what I do, and I am fortunate that it also affords me and my family a living."
After purchasing degraded pasture land in Quepos 23 years ago, Karczynski transformed the farm using agroforestry, permaculture and tropical biodynamic cultural practices.  Permaculture is an approach to designing human settlements and perennial agricultural systems that mimic the relationships found in natural ecologies. The plantation is now also visited by students, researchers and practitioners of sustainable development, said Karczynski.

The farm markets its spices under the Rainforest Spices label.

The plantation offers a tour for visitors. The vanilla vines grow on a host tree and the dangling pods are filled with tiny edible seeds, said Karczynski. He notes that vanilla is the second most expensive spice in the world. The plant is a type of orchid.

The pods have no flavor when they are picked, and it is the curing process that turns them into the highly demanded spice.

On his Web site Karczynski notes that "the pod can be chopped finely or processed in a blender and used to flavor cakes, puddings, ice cream, milkshakes and many everyday sweet dishes. The whole pod can also be used to flavor custards and other liquids, taken out, dried carefully and used again up to three or four times. To flavor milk, allow one bean per 500 ml, bring to a boil and allow to stand for an hour.

His two and a half hour spice plantation tour is topped off with a session of tasting of gourmet pastries and drinks made by his pastry chef.  At the tasting, exquisite spice drinks and desserts are brought to the tourists one after the other while they relax at Villa Vanilla´s secluded mirador overlooking mountains and rainforest.  A naturally sweet Ceylon cinnamon tea, vanilla/lime cheesecake, vanilla and/or cinnamon ice cream, and even farm grown and processed chocolate (cacao) for cookies and chocolate drinks are some of the offerings.  According to Karczynski, his Villa Vanilla plantation is one of two places in the world, the other being India, where these types of quality organic spices can be purchased, and even ordered via his Web site,

Karczynski discovered on the farm ancient cacao artifacts used as tools in cracking cacao beans, including a large, egg-shaped stone, metate and mano in Spanish, and a rock mortar and pestle.  Villa Vanilla actually uses the large rock mortar and pestle artifact to help in the production of cacao nibs, edible pieces of pure cacao. It is clear that the pre-Colombian native inhabitants valued cacao plants, too.

chef's lasagna
Two large shrimp crown lasaña de chile pimienton.

Heredia' chef's signature dish
is lasagna without the pasta

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Chef Ruben Naranjo at the recently remodeled Bar Restaurant Alex Seth Friends in Santa Barbara de Heredia has as his signature dish  lasaña de chile pimienton. 

A former soccer player turned chef (he was formerly with the Hotel Parador in Manuel Antonio), Ruben said “Well, this lasagna does not have cheese or pasta, so it is a bit different. In fact it is based on sweet red chiles, avocados and shrimp.”


Wash two sweet red chiles and bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes until skin is blistered. Immerse in cold water and remove skin, reserve. 

Take a ripe, large Haas avocado and cut into small cubes and put in mixing bowl with the juice of two Mesino limes (yellow flesh without seeds), white onion finely chopped, cilantro, the skin of half a tomato finely chopped with salt and pepper to taste.  

Take eight pinky shrimp and two jumbo prawns and clean and place in bowl.  Take a frying pan and saute the shrimp in olive oil with a bit of finely chopped white onion, a tablespoon of brandy and a tablespoon of white wine until liquid burns off.  Set aside.

Assemble the lasagna on a plate by placing one red chile on bottom and spooning on the guacamole mix with four pinky shrimp; make another layer and on top put a red chile or two with nothing on it.  Take the two jumbo prawns and skewer them to the top with toothpicks and green pimiento olives.  Great as an appetizer or side dish.

A.M. Costa Rica invites recipes from chefs at other food establishments and from readers. Photos are great, too. Send them to

Mamon chinos
Ministerio de Agricultra y Gandería photo  
White layer around the seed is what the fuss is all about.

Seasonable fruit makes inroads
in commercial production here

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some 400 producers of mamón chinos have about 800 hectares (nearly 2,000 acres) planted in the fruit. The country has become the largest exporter of the product in Central America, according to the Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería.

Seven years ago the ministry was encouraging the planting of the fruit in the southern zone as a barrier to citrus diseased that might come in from Panamá. Now that area and the Caribbean coast
mamon chino
Enough for a ight snack
product commercial quantities of the small, red or yellow spiny fruit.

The principal producing areas in the southern zone are the cantons of  Corredores, Osa, Ciudad Cortés and Pérez Zeledón. In the Provincia de Limón, the commercial producing areas are  Pococí, Guácimo and Siquirres.

More than 1,800 metric tons are exported each year to El Salvador and Nicaragua, according to  Alberto Montero González, head of the
ministry's section of non-traditional fruits. Although the fruit is cheap in Costa Rica, a kilo shipped to the United States brings from $4 to $7, the ministry said.

There are two types of mamón chino in the country.  The more traditional one is called chupachupa. This is not a freestone variety, and some say the fruit is not sweet. A new variety is  a freestone, and the edible pulp pulls from the pit easily. The ministry had distributed more than 40,000 saplings of this type over the last five years, and officials are encouraging farmers to substitute the more marketable variety for what they might now have.

The fruit is about as big as a golf ball, but a lot easier to nibble. Vendors sell both the red and yellow varieties from July through November. The mamón chino is called rambutan in Asia. The Latin name is Nephelium lappaceum.

The spiky, red or yellow fruit is held between the fingers and the top is bitten just enough to remove the hard outer shell. Inside is a sweet, pulpy mass surrounding a big seed.

The seed is edible but usually should be roasted first. It is the pulp that the casual nibbler seeks. Throughout the downtown and elsewhere in Costa Rica mamón chino-lovers can be seen walking along chomping at the fruit. Purdue University reports that the roasted seeds are said to be narcotic. The fruit can be made into a syrup or canned, but most are eaten fresh.

Costa Rican officials fear that the introduction of the citrus disease leprosis will cause great economic loss to the country. So they have established a line of control along the frontier of Panamá and seek to eradicate completely citrus trees inside this area adjacent to the border.

The mamón chino is one of the alternatives, the ministry said. The fruit can be grown from seed, but someone doing this runs the risk of lavishing effort on male trees that do not produce fruit. Montero recommends that farmers use cuttings and grafting to maintain a high quality of fruit.

Cardiologists do not recommend the
editor's bacon and garlic Cartago potato medley.
For recipe, see below.

Cartago shows off complexities
of its cusine with contest

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There is a lot more to the Provincia de Cartago than potatoes, and cooks of the communities have joined together to prove that.

The event last month was another of the culture ministry's efforts to capture the nation's traditions.

When most Costa Ricans think of Cartago, the words chilly and potatoes leap to their minds. The province, centered around the Canton of Cartago is generally higher than communities in the Central Valley. Cartago itself at 1,435 meters is 274 meters (about 900 feet) higher than the bulk of San José.

That may be bad for sunbathing, but the weather is great for temperate vegetable crops, including the potato, carrot, onions and even the chayote. And these work their way into the area's traditional menus.

There are seven other cantons, La Unión, Jiménez, Turrialba, Oreamuno, Alvarado, El Guarco and Paraíso. Each has developed their own variations on food. After all, they have had plenty of time. Cartago was founded in the middle of the 16th century, and Spanish settled in the region due to the healthy climate. The city was the nation's capital until 1823.

The region is also known for its conservatism, so one can expect that the Spanish tradition will be a strong influence on the local foods.

Garlic Cartago potatoes

By popular demand (Well, we got some e-mails, anyway), we include the editor's famous garlic potato medley shunned by cardiologists the world over.


2 cans of Imperial (or similar) beer
half pound bacon (200 grams más o menos)
1 large onion
12 toes of garlic (more or less)
12 small (golf ball size potatoes or six tennis ball size) Cartago potatoes
cup of olive oil
Whatever extra seasonings you like such as Italian or Mexican or maybe you like parsley, thyme, bay leaves, or cilantro.


Open and start drinking the first can of beer.

Cut into smaller pieces and start frying bacon in large fry pan.

In a few minutes combine chopped onion and chopped garlic in the frying pan. Put in the seasoning you like now. Add about half the oil. Keep heat moderate to let the tastes meld.

Don't forget the beer.

Wash and clean the small Cartago potatoes. Nuke them in a microwave for from 5 to 7 minutes.  Then chop them into sixths or eighths.

Don't forget the beer.

Put the potatoes in the same frying pan with the onions, bacon, and garlic for a few minutes. Sprinkle with the rest of the oil. Then after a few minutes transfer the entire dish to a metal or glass baking dish and stick in a pre-heated oven.

Depending on the time for dinner, cover with foil to keep garlic, onions and bacon from burning. Make sure to remove the foil during the last 10 minutes to make the potatoes slices crisp.

Reward yourself with the second beer. (This is really a beer-type dish. But port after dinner goes well, too.)

Serve with beer and meat of your choice, perhaps a pork roast.

mixture of nature's boundy

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas  
Vitamin on the half shell to eat out of hand or in drinks.
From left, a seedy grandilla, a naranjilla with dark interior, a guava,
starfruit and a piece of snowy white

A few thousand colons provides
a bounty of delicious fruits

By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Delights from star fruit to guavas to the prickly guyabana and the delicate naranjilla are on the market now, and you can get your daily dose of vitamin C with little trouble.

In water, milk or cocktails, the fruits give up their delicious tastes.

The rainy season brings pure water to revitalize the earth and improve the environment. It also gives a boost for some fruits. And this is a good time to explore fruity options.

Costa Rica has a long list of delicious tropical varieties rich in vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, and C.

Blending fruits with water to make a refresco is common in Costa Rican homes. Water is preferred for its lower costs, but the daring can try milk and even cream for some of the fruit. Watch out for seeds if a blender is to be used.

A reporter went to the Mercado Central with a few thousand colons to seek out fresh fruit. Another option is the ferias del agricultor, but many markets are just one day a week.

At the central market there were at least guayabas, maracuyas, carambolas, naranjillas and guanabanas.

Here is what they are:

The guayabas or guavas are 1,100 colons a kilo, about $1.93. The baseball-size green fruit has five small protrusions on the flower end. Some fruits have up to 500 seeds but they can be eaten.  They are Mexican or Central American natives now found all over the world.

The carambola is the starfruit now grown locally and available in most North American supermarkets but not at 600 colons a kilo, or a bit more than $1. The whole fruit, including skin, can be eaten.

The maracuyá is the passion fruit or what is called grandilla here in Costa Rica. They are available for 850 colons a kilo, about $1.50. The fruit can be several colors, but most here are yellow. There are plenty of seeds. They can be eaten but some folks like to strain them for juice.

The naranjillas (1,500 colons per kilo) are like tiny oranges, with lots of seeds and a dark interior. They can be eaten out of hand, and the juice is green. Unripe fruits are sour but can be eaten with sprinklings of salt.

The guanabana is the soursop, a giant fruit that frequently is cut up to be sold. It runs 1,200 a kilo ($2.10) at the market. The creamy meat of the plant is eaten out of hand or juiced. The black seeds, about the size of those in a watermelon, are not eaten.

Each of these fruits can be the subject of its own monograph. But the wise shopper will try new fruits and in different ways. Some can end up in jam as well as drinks. Others can be reduced to a sweet syrup.

Some fruits have a reputation as a medicine or a cure. But that is a whole different article.

Pigs with the right genes sought
for the best tasting meat

By the University of the West of England Press Office

How can pigs be produced that provide healthy and yet good tasting meat?

Meat eating quality and healthiness are closely related to the amount and type of fat. During the last decade there has been extensive selection towards leaner genotypes which has resulted in reduction of not only undesirable subcutaneous fat, but also in a dramatic decrease in desirable intramuscular fat (commonly known as “marbling” fat).

Intramuscular fat has the key input in meat tenderness and juiciness and a low level of intramuscular fat is associated with dry and unpalatable pork. The challenge which the pig producing industry is facing now is how to increase intramuscular fat without increasing subcutaneous fat?

A project which has recently started at the Institute of Biosensing Technology in collaboration with the Centre for Research in Biomedicine at the University of the West of England (UWE) aims to identify the genes controlling subcutaneous and intramuscular fat deposition. The end-aim of this work is to provide data which could form a basis for developing a genetic test for intramuscular fat and which could assist pig breeders in genetic selection.

 The project is undertaken by Duncan Marriott, a doctoral student with a amster's degree in meat science and five years experience as a research technician at the University of Bristol's School of Clinical Veterinary Science.

“Pigs need to be leaner to produce healthy meat but to carry
sufficient intramuscular fat to maintain good eating quality,"
Marriott explaind. "The project will be conducted on a number of commercial pig breeds, which differ in intramuscular fat content. My challenge is to identify the genes controlling both the intramuscular and subcutaneous fat content in different breeds.”

pejibaye halved
A.M. Costa Rica photo      
The first step is to half the palm nuts

Editor's favorite soup is easy
and very much Costa Rican

By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica

Here's the lowdown on the editor's favorite soup. One serving is about a zillion calories, so Weight Watchers can tune out now.

The beauty of pejibaye soup is that it is easy to make, tastes great and is uniquely Costa Rican. The fruit have been grown here since long before Columbus.

Pejibayes are those palm nuts found in the vegetable sauna at the grocery. They range from orange to green and resemble large, bobbing acorns. When they are hot, they are easier to peel.

Purdue University in Indiana says that one average pejibaye fruit contains 1,096 calories. They are the perfect junk food: low in protein, high in fat.

Of course they're high in fat, they are the product of a palm tree. One palm tree can produce more than 140 pounds of nuts in a year. So they are far from endangered.

The biggest challenge in making pejibaye soup is in forcing yourself not to eat the peeled halves. They make a nice hor d'oeuvre topped with mayonnaise. Another challenge might be in getting someone else to peel and halve the fruit. There is a pit that must be removed. (Hey, Honey, can you give me a hand for a minute . . . . ?)

The soup is a snap. Drip a little oil in a saucepan and make tender chopped onions, garlic and maybe even jalapeños. Then drop in about a dozen pejibaye halves . Or two dozen. It really makes no difference because you can cut the soup with milk or cream to make it the consistency you desire.

Add a cup or two of water and begin breaking up the pejibaye. Or you could run the whole mixture through a blender. Add milk or cream to reach the consistency of soup. Serve hot and season to taste.

A little experimentation will show that the pejibaye mixture is perfect for a sauce over traditional foods. And they say fermented pejibaye will knock your socks off.

green mangos
A.M. Costa Rica photo     
A quick snack of green mango

Time for a sour green fruit
that's loaded with vitamin C

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Among the more underrated offerings of the Costa Rican produce markets is the green mango. Most expats know about ripe mangos and have enjoyed the drippy, juicy fruit with its unique flavor. They may also have used it in blended drinks or as a flavor for ice cream or soda.

Less respected is the green mango. This can be found prepared in the little baggies offered by street vendors. Included in the bag with the strips of mango is a bit of lemon and salt. Nice vendors also will add special ingredients, like chili, upon request.

This is street finger food. The long mango strips are bitter and an acquired taste. And that's about all the average Tico sees of green mangos.

The inhabitants of India and some Asian countries have a 4,000 to 5,000 year head start on using the fruit. Chutney,  the condiment identified with the British Empire and India, has a mango base.

Green mangos can hold their own in any taste test, and the addition of sea salt, chili, chilero or black pepper can cater to the desires of the consumer.

A real treat is a green mango salad. There are an infinite number of recipes. The basic salad contains either grated or strips of mango. From there on in, the choices are many. One version uses baked coconut and various nuts, bean sprouts and basil.

Those who want to add fire to the sour treat can create a mango-jalapeño salad, heavy on lime or lemon and pepper.

The fruit is so accommodating that a chef can hardly go wrong. The salad can become a main course with the addition of chicken or shrimp.

The mango also contains all sorts of healthful compounds, including vitamin C and fiber.

The only downside is the large seed in the middle that sometimes can be a challenge. Freestone versions of the fruit exist, but they are foreign to Costa Rica.

Chinese bottles
A.M. Costa Rica/Arron O'Dell
There's no need to read the bottle. In fact, most of us cannot, despite loosely enforced Costa Rican laws to the contrary that call for labels in Spanish. It's just time for experimentation!

Take the Chinese liquor plunge
and drink that mystery elixir

By Arron O'Dell
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

China is a country known for the Great Wall, temples, big cities, big culture, a billion people and their seeming love to eat anything.  If it grows out of the ground, walks, crawls, slithers, swims, flies or does any combination, the people of China have found a way to kill it, cook it, eat it and enjoy it.  However, the liquor traditions of China seldom come up in conversation.

There are more Chinese than you can shake a stick at around the globe and not one beer that is popular around the world.  This is the sort of thing not to be taken lightly. There must be a good reason for it.   Most Chinese joints here don't even sell an Asian beer and, if they do, it's almost always Thai or Japanese.  You will never here a Chinese expat say something like "Yeah, this Pilsen  is okay but you should try this beer I use to drink back home." 

What the Chinese did bring with them was liquor, high octane, burn-on-the-way-down, glorious liquor.  You haven't seen the stuff at Hipermás, any of the big mercados or your local super, because it is not there.  You cannot find it in any of the places you frequent for your standard shopping needs. 

The only way to track down Chinese liquor is to search out the small shops around town with the Chinese characters on the front.  These shops are here. You can find them.  When you fall into one of these places you hit gold because of the strange and exotic smells.  A good shop will have two or three shelves of bottles in a variety of shapes sizes with red and gold labels and writing that means nothing unless you read Mandarin.
My friend and I have found the best way to pick the best one is by style.  The first bottle we took home was chosen this way and still remains a favorite.  It was a short and fat bottle shaped like an oversize pineapple hand grenade with a colorful label.  When my friend saw it, he said something like 'I've got to have that bottle. It looks cool!'   He was that excited about this new elixir we had found. 

With bottle in hand we quickly made our way to the closest place to home that sold beer and yanked several six packs off the shelf and darted home at a near run.  With two open cans and empty shot glasses in front of us we stared admiring the bottle for a moment.  Then with stupid giddy expressions on our faces we poured. 

After the straight shot, we felt compelled to try it every way we could come up with until there was no more. We sipped it, drank it on ice, with soda, chased it, used it as a chaser for beer.  This tasting was was done very scientifically. 

It was very similar to Jägermeister without the bite on the front, and for 2,000 colons it was a superb deal.  Somewhere around around the bottom of the bottle it occurred to us it might be nice to have a name to put to this wonderful concoction.   We studied every character that  The People's Republic of China felt necessary to put on the ornate paper label on that fine, cheap bottle, and all of it was in some form of Chinese.  

When we inquired of the proprietor of the local Chinese restaurant, he told us that it was  an “export-only” liquor from mainland China. How fortunate for us that they chose to export this fine elixir!
Amistad martini bar

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The plantain is a fruit that has triple flexibility in kitchen
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The culinary landscape of pre-conquest America lacked some of the foods taken for granted today.

There was no sugar. That was imported by Columbus on his second voyage. The delicious mango did not grow here. And the banana did not come to the Americas until the 16th century. Even the ubiquitous rice plant is a colonial import.

Despite being imported, these plants flourished here. And no Costa Rican meal is complete without rice. The plantain, called plátano, also makes up a flexible part of the diet.

The flexibility is in the use of green plantains as a starchy potato or rice substitute and the use of the mature fruit in ways to take advantage of its sweetness.

The plantain is larger than the typical table banana. Its uses differ depending on the maturity. The green plátano can be cooked like a potato, grated into flour or fried to make chips. The patacone, a double-fried disc of plantain traditionally is decorated with refried beans, mayonnaise and avocado dip.

Compared to the rest of the world, Costa Rica is fairly conservative in using the plátano. Asian cooks are far more creative.

For most, the mature, almost black-skinned plátano comes fried as one of the regulars in the luncheon casado. They are called maduros and give off their sweetness when fried in hot oil.

Nutritional content varies slightly depending on the maturity of the plantain. A green plantain, about 220 grams or about half a pound, is about 360 calories with no calories from fat. A ripe fruit is slightly less, about 340 calories. The 2 gram sugar content of the green fruit increases to about 10 grams in the mature plantain. Both are reported to be a good source of potassium, dietary fiber, vitamin A and vitamin C.

The non-fat label is a bit misleading because many of the great plantain recipes call for deep frying.

A good source of recipes is the Turbana cooperative Web site. The company features dishes for all three plátano stages.
Typical display of green plátanos
Among these are plantain pancakes, mashed green plantains, fried plantains and several desserts.

Those who love patacones should know that some gourmet stores sell a press to make uniform discs. Others sell a product to fabricate a small plátano shell into which condiments can be spooned.

At home, the once-fried quarters of plantain can be pressed with the bottom of a bottle or some other hard object. They need to be reduced to about a quarter inch before deep frying again.

Chemical seen leaching from polycarbonate bottles to humans
By the Harvard School of Public Health news service

Researchers have found that persons who drink from polycarbonate bottles have a higher level of chemical bisphenol A , which is used in producing the containers.

Exposure to bisphenol A, used in the manufacture of polycarbonate and other plastics, has been shown to interfere with reproductive development in animals and has been linked with cardiovascular disease and diabetes in humans.

The researchers were led by Jenny Carwile, a doctoral student in the department of epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health, and Karin B. Michels, an associate professor of epidemiology.

Researchers recruited Harvard College students for the study in April 2008. The 77 participants began the study with a seven-day washout phase in which they drank all cold beverages from stainless steel bottles as a control.

Participants provided urine samples during the washout period. They were then given two polycarbonate bottles and asked to drink all cold beverages from the bottles during the next week. Urine samples were also provided during that time.

The results showed that the participants' urinary bisphenol A concentrations increased 69 percent after drinking from the
polycarbonate bottles. The study authors noted that concentrations in the college population were similar to those reported for the U.S. general population.  Previous studies had found that bisphenol A could leach from polycarbonate bottles into their contents. This study is the first to show a corresponding increase in urinary concentrations in humans.

One of the study's strengths, the authors note, is that the students drank from the bottles in a normal setting. Additionally, the students did not wash their bottles in dishwashers nor put hot liquids in them. Heating has been shown to increase the leaching of Bisphenol A from polycarbonate.

Canada banned the use of bisphenol A in polycarbonate baby bottles in 2008 and some polycarbonate bottle manufacturers have voluntarily eliminated the chemical from their products. With increasing evidence of the potential harmful effects of Bisphenol A in humans, the authors believe further research is needed on the effect of Bisphenol A on infants and on reproductive disorders and on breast cancer in adults.

In addition to polycarbonate bottles, which are refillable and a popular container among students, campers and others and are also used as baby bottles, bisphenol A is also found in dentistry composites and sealants and in the lining of aluminum food and beverage cans. In bottles, polycarbonate can be identified by the recycling number 7.

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