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(506) 2223-1327               Published Thursday, Nov. 12, 2009,  in Vol. 9, No. 224        E-mail us
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More often armed robbery might be on the menu
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Successful home invasions appear to have encouraged bandits to try their hand at commercial establishments. More and more bars, restaurants and even houses of ill repute are being targeted by gunmen.

The advantage is that commercial establishments have drawers full of ready cash. Home invaders have the problem of disposing of electronic equipment and jewelry.

Traditional targets like banks have beefed up their security, and hijacking a truck means using a torch to cut into the welded metal security safe most delivery vehicles carry. Or there is no instant payday because merchandise must be sold, often for a fraction of the value.

Most restaurants have limited or no security. A Cafeteria Spoon had an armed guard who was easily overpowered and tied up Tuesday night within 50 feet of the U.S. Embassy on the Pavas Boulevard. Police later caught two suspects in that crime.

A man having a drink at a bar in Zapote Wednesday night was the latest shooting victim of bandits. The man with the last name of Laurtents was quietly sitting when two men entered and ordered drinks. A short time later they pulled out guns and announced a stickup, said the Judicial Investigating Organization. The victim appears to have moved or stood up, and a bandit shot him in the back of the head. The victim survived but he was hospitalized in guarded condition.

The bandits left on a motorcycle with 100,000 colons, about $180, for their troubles.

In contrast Tuesday bandits stuck up a delivery truck in the Parque Industrial in Cartago and took 16 million colons (about $28,000) in coffee. Now their problem is selling black market coffee.

There are no solid statistics on commercial holdups. The Fuerza Pública and the Judicial Investigating Organization only are anxious to report the event when they have made an arrest or when there is serious gunplay. Informally it appears that three to four establishments are held up each week in San José downtown. Two months ago one of the targets was a well known downtown pension that serves double duty as a bordello.

In that case, the U.S. citizen who was the unarmed guard said that a bandit jumped the outer locked gate and allowed buddies to enter. The
Restaurant stickup


event was particularly shocking to those expats who had rented accommodations, The bandits went room to room kicking in doors, roughing up guests and taking their valuables.

That was similar to the robbery that took place at a Guachipelín condo complex Oct. 10. Bandits there overpowered the guard, tied him up and then brought individual residents to a back room while they sacked the living areas. Judicial investigators got a lead on that case, and an agent, Ronny Javier Sojo Chacón, died trying to make an arrest in Sabana Sur Oct. 20.

Generally eating places and bars are pushover targets. Many do not employ armed guards. If they do, usually only one is on duty at one time. And in addition to the cash box, bandits can rob the patrons, perhaps doubling their take.

Some restaurant owners do not like to report such crimes for fear of scaring off future patrons.

Clearly the best security would be costly. Banco Nacional at some branches has double doors. Only one can open at a time, so guards can give a once-over to anyone who enters. The addition of metal detectors keeps out firearms and sometimes bags of coins.

Only the largest restaurant could afford such security.

A reporter was surprised Monday while having lunch inside a well-known and crowded San José restaurant. A shabby man walked up to the table well inside the establishment and then dropped to his knees begging for coins. He resisted efforts to send him away because the only worker to confront him was a waitress. There was no guard.

If the man had a gun, he would have had no trouble in sticking up 50 to 60 persons.


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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Nov. 12, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 224

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Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía
y Seguridad Pública/Sergio López
Woman 73, accused of a drug charge climbs into a police van to a trip to jail.

Woman, 73, and son nabbed
at Hatillo drug operation

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Anti-drug police detained a 73-year-old woman and her son Wednesday on allegations of selling narcotics.

They said they confiscated 35 doses of crack cocaine, 10 grams of chopped marijuana and money. The woman is being called the "narco abuela," although it was not disclosed if she really was a grandmother.

She was identified by the last names of Díaz Sequeira. The son, 42, was identified by the last names of Buzano Díaz. Police said he had been picked up in 2003 for possession of marijuana and crack. However, they suggested that the boss was the woman.

The home where they lived was in Barrio 25 de Julio some 100 meters from the Catholic church in Hatillo centro. Drug agents said they had received multiple calls on a tip line about the operation.

Woman shook down man
with rape claim, agents say


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Diamonds may be a girl's best friend, but cash is more negotiable. And one has to have a car to get around with the dough.

That's what agents suggest a 22-year-old woman university student thought when she threatened to level an allegation of rape against a 40-year-old businessman and former boyfriend.

The woman was detained on an extortion charge Wednesday. Both of the individuals involved are from Monteverde, but the woman moved to Santa Cruz recently, agents said.

According to the allegation the woman wanted 4 million colons, about $7,000. Otherwise she would press the rape allegation, they said. The Judicial Investigating Organization said that the man paid her 3.5 million colons and then went to law officers.

The final payment of 500,000 colons was made Wednesday alone with the delivery of a sports utility vehicle, said agents. The bills were marked, they said. Although the two individuals dated briefly, there was no indication if the rape charge was fabricated or was true.

Weight station work delayed
for six years, report says


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Contraloría de la República has issued a report critical of highway authorities for failing to put into operation a system of checking vehicle weights and measurements on national roadways even after having six years to do it.

The stations at Búfalo and Cañas are built but not operational, and those at Ochomogo, Esparza and Villa Briceño have not even gone out to bid, said the report.

The report said that the Consejo Nacional de Vialidad lacks the competent people to supervise the projects and had weaknesses in its planning. Overweight trucks can do damage to highways, and they are restricted by law. The Contraloría ordered that the work move ahead faster.

Fake power worker making calls

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

That person who claims to represent the electric company might be a fake, said the Compañía Nacional de Fuerza y Luz, S.A. The electric company said that someone is impersonating its employees on the telephone and seeking information and addresses of customers who they call. Real electric workers already know the address because of the company's computer system, the firm said.

There was no indication exactly what the crooked callers were doing with the information but the company warned about letting people into homes, and said that its employees infrequently have to go into private property.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 223

New study questions need for sequestering carbon dioxide
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A controversial new study challenges Costa Rica's philosophy to be carbon neutral by 2021. It also puts a shadow over those commercial enterprises set up to sell carbon sequestration.

New data show that the balance between the airborne and the absorbed fraction of carbon dioxide has stayed approximately constant since 1850, despite emissions of carbon dioxide having risen from about 2 billion tons a year in 1850 to 35 billion tons a year now.

This suggests that terrestrial ecosystems and the oceans have a much greater capacity to absorb carbon dioxide than had been previously expected, said the British University of Bristol in explaining the work of its Wolfgang Knorr.

The study results run contrary to a significant body of recent research which expects that the capacity of terrestrial ecosystems and the oceans to absorb carbon dioxide should start to diminish as carbon dioxide emissions increase, letting greenhouse gas levels skyrocket. Knorr found that in fact the trend in the airborne fraction since 1850 has only been 0.7 ± 1.4 percent per decade, which is essentially zero.

The strength of the new study, published online in Geophysical Research Letters, is that it rests solely on measurements and statistical data, including historical records extracted from Antarctic ice, and does not rely on computations with complex climate models, the university said.

Some development projects in Costa Rica are striving to be carbon negative or at least carbon neutral using carbon sequestration.  Carbon sequestration is where forests are used to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere offsetting carbon waste put into the atmosphere.

Reforestation projects are encouraged by the government. Nature Air, an airline based in Costa Rica, is advertising heavily, stating the company is the world's first and only carbon neutral airline.

The Peace with Nature program of President Óscar Arias 
Sánchez is an organized push for carbon neutrality.  The country even has an Oficina Nacional de Cambio Climático, part of the Ministerio de Ambiente, Energía  y Telecomunicaciones and an Estrategia Nacional de Cambio Climático.

By 2021, every tourist business operating in Costa Rica should be able to measure its own output of greenhouse gases and take steps to compensate for these emissions, according to a document prepared by the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo.

All these plans and efforts would be unnecessary if the Knorr study holds up.

This Knorr work is significant for climate change policy, because emission targets to be negotiated at the U. N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen early next month have been based on projections, said the university. Some researchers have cautioned against this approach.

Another result of the study is that emissions from deforestation might have been overestimated by between 18 and 75 per cent, the university said. This would agree with results published inture Geoscience by a team led by Guido van der Werf from VU University Amsterdam. They re-visited deforestation data and concluded that emissions have been overestimated by at least a factor of two, the university added.

Some U.S. politicians have suggested that the climate change summit has as a goal the approval of a treaty that would be binding on all parties and a step toward world government. They suggest that climate change is a natural process that is being used for political ends.

Adopting an opposing point of view is Al Gore, the former U.S. vice president, who won a Nobel Prize for his popular 2006 documentary titled "An Inconvenient Truth." The show addressed global warming and its possible effects and raises concern about carbon emissions to the level of a moral issue and dogma. Gore also cited studies that show major increases in carbon dioxide based on core samples of Arctic and Antarctic ice sheets. These would seem to contradict Knorr's study.


Pérez Zeledón prisoners will get a bed of their own, court tells ministry
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Inmates at a prison in Pérez Zeledón have won a Sala IV constitutional court case.

They complained that their prison unit was overpopulated and that some inmates had to sleep on the floor. The unit is  E-2 at the Centro Penitenciario de Pérez Zeledón. The high court noted that the unit was built for 88 inmates
 and now houses 136 prisoners.

The court ordered the Ministerio de Justicia y Paz to provide a bed for each inmate and to eliminate the overpopulation in a reasonable time and no longer than a year.

The inmates argued that the conditions were unhealthy. They noted that inmates sleeping on the floor had to use foam mattresses in bad condition.


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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Nov. 12, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 224


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Law signed to tighten up residency by marriage rules

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

After more than 10,000 persons have taken advantage of marriage by proxy over the last two and a half years to win residency here, the central government has taken action to stop the practice.

President Óscar Arias Sánchez signed a law penalizing those who participate in fake marriages.

The technique has been used by Chinese, Cubans, Colombians and Jamaicans to remain in Costa Rica. The practice has been known for years, but lawmakers seemed unable to close the loophole.

Basically a foreigner provides paperwork from his or her own country allowing a marriage ceremony in Costa Rica. Then, on the strength of the union, the individual applies for a visa and then residency.

A number of lawyers and notaries profited by the practice, and Costa Ricans, men and women, were given small amounts of money, sometimes as little as 20,000 colons, about $36, to lend their name to the marriage.

The new law appears to sanction fake marriages even if both parties are here.

The Spanish-language daily La Nación has frequently published news stories about women who had no idea of their husband's name. Sometimes the women had no knowledge of the marriage and were shocked to find that a notary had used their name. Frequently when police detain foreign prostitutes they find that they have a legal right to be in the country because they were married after being
here a few days. Many of these women were unable to give the names of their husband.

The law was introduced July 7, 2007, noted Casa Presidencial.

The Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería tried to crack down on the practice but the courts intervened. The new immigration law that goes into effect March 1 contains rules against fake marriages, but the law signed Wednesday provides criminal penalties. It was the immigration agency that gave the estimate of 10,000 such marriages over the last two and a half years.

The most recent publicized beneficiary of residency by marriage is the Jamaican with the last name of Perkins who is the principal suspect in the murder of a university student Oct. 29 and a judicial agent Nov. 3. He was among four persons stopped more than a year ago with two illegal pistols. That discovery happened after Fuerza Pública officers stopped two luxury cars near Puerto Viejo. However, the local prosecutor never followed up on the gun allegations and turned the case over to immigration officers instead.

Perkins was married to a Costa Rican, but not to the women traveling with him and associates. So he was deemed to be here legally.

The new law will go into effect in a week or two when it is published in the official La Gaceta. It provides prison terms and other sanctions against principals, notaries and even witnesses to a fake marriage. The new immigration law provides that the couple must live together for a year before applying for residency.


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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Nov. 12, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 224

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Norman Rockwell lives on
in museum dedicated to him


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

For a man identified so closely with small-town America, Norman Rockwell spent much of his life living in or near America's biggest city. He was born in New York City in 1894, and did not move to a small town, Arlington, Vermont, until he was well into his 40s. He spent the final 25 years of his life in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and this is where his museum is located.

Audrey Manring is director of communications at the Rockwell Museum. She says he often asked people he knew to pose for him. "I think at the very beginning of his career he used some professional models. But over time, he relies more and more on, and then relies exclusively on, his friends and neighbors. And there was a very meaningful connection between people who live around him and pose for him," she says, "They really feel they are part of something special."

Claire Williams once posed as a model for an advertisement that Rockwell illustrated. It happened 50 years ago but the memory remains fresh in her mind. "Many times he would call you himself to come and model," she explains, "He picks up the phone and just calls you and sets a time and you go. It was fun." 

In addition to being a keen observer of people, Rockwell was good at capturing the beauty and the humor in the seemingly ordinary. He once said, "If there was a sadness in this creative world of mine, it was a pleasant sadness. If there were problems, they were humorous problems."

Perhaps Rockwell's most representative works are the more than 300 covers he made for the Saturday Evening Post. 

His series Four Freedoms was inspired by a speech President Franklin Roosevelt gave during World War II about the four fundamental human freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want and freedom from fear.

But he did many other works that are equally popular: his American presidents series, his Boy Scout series, the quaint small town depicted in Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas, and his humorous Triple Self Portrait.

In 1963 Rockwell ended his partnership with the Saturday Evening Post and struck up a new association with Look magazine. His style of painting did not change, but the subject matter did. He focused more on sensitive social and political issues.

New Kids in the Neighborhood dealt with race relations in America. The black boy depicted in the picture was Wray Gunn. "It was the centerfold of Look magazine in 1967. This one particularly was dealing with the integration in an all-white neighborhood in Park Forth, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago as I came to know," Gunn said.

From the black children's white cat, to the white children's black dog, the busy work of the movers, and the neighbors peering out their windows in the background, each detail of the illustration creates an atmosphere of tension. Little did 13-year-old Wray and his 7-year-old cousin Tracy know that they would become a part of America's civil rights history.

Rockwell died in 1978, at the age of 84. In the years since his death, his work has retained its tremendous appeal.  Every year hundreds of thousands of people flock to this museum to see the work of a man whose brush eloquently told the story of his America

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Nov. 12, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 224


Latin American news
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Massive outage in Brazil
is blamed on lightning


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A Brazilian official says the blackout that left millions of people in the dark in Brazil and neighboring Paraguay Tuesday was caused by a lightning storm.

The energy ministry's executive secretary, Marcio Zimmermann, told reporters Wednesday that the storm took out three transmission lines running from the Itaipu hydroelectric dam on the Brazil-Paraguay border.

Much of the southern half of Brazil, including the two largest cities, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, was without power Tuesday night.

All of Paraguay was blacked out for a brief period.

Officials say the Itaipu plant was shut down completely for several hours. The malfunction caused a loss of about 17,000 megawatts to the national electricity grid.

The blackout knocked out traffic signals and subway service, snarling traffic and forced evening commuters to abandon train cars. There were also reports of a spike in robberies on city streets.

But the director of the Brazilian Center for Infrastructure Studies, Adriano Pires, says the problem is that Brazil has failed to maintain its power lines, saying a storm alone should not cause such a massive power outage.

The Itaipu hydroelectric plant, one of the largest in the world, returned to normal operation by early Wednesday.


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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Nov. 12, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 224

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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, www.rainforestspices.com.

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.”

Directions: 

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 editor@amcostarica.com.


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.


potatoes
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.

Ingredients:

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.

Procedure

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
guanabana

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!
R&G steakhouse

La Amistad bar
These spaces are reserved
for the country's
better restaurants



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Food- and entertainment-related events and times are eligible for placement here at the usual classified rates. See how to place a classified HERE!






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.
plalntains
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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