Last summer I had the opportunity to shoot some Olympic triathletes a few weeks before the London Olympics down in Costa Rica. They were staying on this unassuming strawberry farm/training center at 7,000 feet on volcano Irazu just outside of San Jose. It was a minimal little house down a dirt road in the middle of the farmlands. There was no need to shut the door because the whole house was made up of these leaking windows. Weather changes were constant – sunny one minute giving way to dense fog minutes later. One night the wind knocked out the power for a few hours. This was a common occurrence, so Leo fired up his truck to give us light for a few hours until bedtime.
During an after-workout nap, I had time to wander and shoot. Talking to the owner of the farm, I asked where all these strawberries go. He told me they all go to the US. I’ve never felt a connection with food imported from other countries, but this made me imagine all the cool little farms all over the world that supply us with a good portion of our food. I often picture these farms as acres of monoculture, but looking around most were only about 5 acres or smaller. This farmer tends the whole fields with one other helper. While I was shooting, they were hand watering each plant with calcium. Seeing this man’s hard work and humble operation made me really appreciate the process of growing food.
When I was talking to Leo and Manny about how they change their diet in the weeks leading up to the Olympics they told me that they didn’t change a thing. They still eat rice and beans everyday with some meat and vegetable. It’s amazing how much power you can get from such a simple staple food. I don’t think I ever saw an empty crock-pot in the house; black beans were on tap 24/7. We started every meal with fresh fruit, and the flavors they got out of such simple ingredients was amazing. I noticed they used a combination of finely chopped celery, green pepper, onion, and cilantro in many dishes.
My brother Nate went to Tijuana for a weekend and came back raving about the way they drink coffee. This recipe is just brewed coffee with whole cinnamon and cane sugar. The cinnamon and cane sugar make it sweet enough to drink black. Try this with some high quality light or medium roast coffee, and I think you’ll love it – even if your used to drinking Starbucks with 17 pumps of sugar and cream.
Here is the recipe:
- 1 cup burnt over brewed coffee
- 6 pumps cinnamon
- 8 pumps caramel
- 12 pumps sugar syrup
- I’m just kidding – I’m not about to “pump” anything into my coffee
Here is the real recipe using whole ingredients:
- 2 cups of properly brewed coffee
- 1/2 cinnamon stick crushed up
- Cane sugar to taste
You can french press the coffee and the cinnamon together for a lighter cinnamon flavor OR you can take brewed coffee and simmer it on low in a pot with the cinnamon and cane sugar. Either way, its up to you. Fiddle around with the amounts you until you get it the way you want. Just don’t use powdered cinnamon because it has a completely different flavor, and it doesn’t really work.
When I was in Costa Rica, I ate this combination of rice and beans every morning, which they called gallo pinto. This same thing eaten at lunch is called arroz y frijoles (rice and beans), but for some reason they call it something different for breakfast. I thought that eating rice and beans for breakfast would be odd, but it turned out to be a really good way to start my day. The combination makes a complete protein, and it is surprisingly delicious with ham and eggs. I also had more energy throughout the day because this is a powerful combination. As soon as I came home, I tried to recreate what I ate down south, and this is what I came up with.
Recipe for 2 Servings:
- 1 cup cooked rice
- 1 cup cooked black beans
- 1 small pepper (half a large pepper)
- 1 tomato (or a handful of cherry tomatoes)
- small handful of cilantro
- 1/2 stick of celery
- Juice from 1/2 lime
- Cook rice and beans from dry (or used canned beans). You can cook the rice and beans the night before and eat some for dinner, and make a little extra for the next morning.
- Finely chop pepper, tomato, cilantro, and celery.
- Add lime juice. Mix everything together and serve with eggs.
Last week I took a trip up to Santa Cruz, CA to chill amongst the redwoods and share some good food with friends. They took us to the most epic roadside produce stand that you could tell evolved over the years into a shanty town of inexpensive local food. It was like a mini swap meet with tons of deals. If you ever find yourself driving Highway 1 between Santa Cruz and Monterrey, look for the signs. You’ll find it.
All the farmlands in this area are filled with either brussel sprouts or artichokes.
They had an epic deal on squash, so I got about 20 because they were about 50 cents a piece! They keep for several months in the right dry cool conditions, and my fiance and I love squash soup which is the easiest thing to make. I’ll put a recipe for this using these squash in the next post.
The kiwis were 10 for a $1. These kiwis were no ordinary kiwis, they were mega kiwis. Some of them were like 2-3 normal kiwis in one. They were almost as big as my whole hand. I got 40. We’ve almost eaten them all. They were delicious.
My first visit costed me only $17 for all the produce you see below. Of course I had to go back to get more squash on my way back home. I’m no rookie when it comes to buying epic produce.
I had an opportunity to shoot in Costa Rica a month ago, and after my assignment was done, I wondered the markets looking for good food. On the corner of a street outside San Jose, I found this little fruit stand with the coolest vendor I met on the trip. He gave me all these samples, and introduced me to the Rambutan fruit. It tastes just like Lychee, but it has these crazy hairs on the outside. They are super good, and I recently found them at 99 Ranch market, which is an insanely good Asian market. They have a seed in the center, which you obviously don’t eat, that is surrounded by this opaque jelly like fruit. If you find them, give them a try. It’s worth looking for.
I met a lifeguard in Kauai that was making the most grass roots sashimi I’ve ever seen. His friend caught the fish right in front of his patrol, and he filleted it right on the cement footing of his tower. Then he bummed some soy sauce from a camper nearby and some wasabi from another lifeguard. He just cut the fish into chunks, added soy sauce and wasabi, and was good to go. Good quality fresh fish right from the ocean needs no more prep than that. But if your going to do this yourself remember to buy sushi grade fish, or you’ll probably get the trotts. Or catch it yourself.
On my drive back from Washington, I stopped by the Roque Creamery in southern Oregon to do some cheese tasting. They make some of the best blue cheese there, among others, and they had one of my favorite cheeses to date – Humbolt Fog. This cheese is in a world of its own. It’s a creamy goat cheese with a layer of vegetable ash running through the center, and the edges start to ooze as it ages.
After driving a few more hours, we stopped on the upper Sacramento river past Shasta for a little cheese and bread snack. Sitting on a rock on the river eating cheese – what a perfect way to end a day of driving.
On my trip to Portland, Oregon I had a chance to check out some cool food spots. Pastaworks is a market with a simple restaurant attached where they prep your meal in front of you. Like everywhere I go, I had to try some good local cheeses. I got a wodge of Boerenkaas raw milk gouda from Willamette Valley Cheese and a good slice of Rogue River Blue from Roque River Creamery.
Add a few thin slices of high quality salami and a fresh baguette, and we had an amazing pre-lunch snack. This is such a great way to taste some of the local artisan creations in the area before we hit the food carts.
When I went to Mexico a few years ago I tasted this pepper sauce on chicken that’s been in my mind ever since. It’s a very mild and sweet sauce because of the caramelized onions and peppers, and you make it as spicy as you like by adding chilies. I tried making it a few times, but I could never get it just right. Today was the day I cracked the code and finally got it to where I remember it. This is now my favorite sauce I’ve ever made. It’s perfect over white fish, chicken, vegetables, and even as a salad dressing. This recipe uses halibut, but I think red snapper or grouper will be very good also. You can make this sauce a day or two ahead of time if you like.
Bell Pepper Sauce Recipe:
- 3 Bell Peppers
- 1 Onion
- 2 Red Chili Pepper
- 2 Tomatoes
- Juice of 1 Lemon
- Juice of 1 Lime
- 1/4 cup Olive Oil
- 4 tablespoons Cheri Vinegar
- 1 tablespoon Raw Cane Sugar
- Salt and Pepper
- Chop peppers and onions
- Add to stainless or cast iron pan on high until they start to color.
- Add vinegar
- Turn to medium low and let them caramelize (about 20 min)
- Add tomato at the end and let cook for 5 more min
- Blend caramelized peppers, onions, lime juice, lemon juice, sugar, and olive oil until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Fish with Asparagus and Celery Root
- 1 halibut fillet per person
- 1 handful of asparagus per person
- 1/4 celery root per person
- Baby greens
- Add ONLY salt and pepper to fish
- Pan fry fish on medium-low heat until you have color on both sides.
- Grab the top and bottom of the asparagus bunch and bend until they break in half. The top half will be perfectly chewable and delicious. The bottom half will be stringy and dumb. Just eat the tops.
- Thinly slice celery root into little matchsticks
- Pan fry asparagus and celery root
- Plate with veggies on bottom, then fish with the sauce, and top it off with some good baby greens. Peppery greens like arugula, cress, mustard leaves, etc. work very well.
After driving for six hours past Esquel in the middle of the desert in Chubut, Argentina, we wondered how there could be any cool lakes and rivers. Paved roads turned into rocky rental car killing dirt roads as we gradually climbed into the mountains. Not seeing any other cars or houses along the way, we knew this place was as remote as it gets. We finally arrive at the head of Rio Sengur to see a massive white capped lake. There is no way to explain how windy it was; all I can say is the wind will rip your face off your face.
Our map didn’t have this road, so we were driving for 2 hours on the word of the guy at the gas station in the last town we passed. We were completely confused how we were on the wrong side of the lake. Luckily we found a gaucho that told us we took the wrong road. Crap! That means we either gotta drive back around for 4 hours, or we find a river here. We search around and find a sweet zone at the head of the lake. Here we meet the only other people we see camping Nydia and Edwardo. They were the sweetest elderly couple that ended up inviting us to eat with them our entire 4 days camping there. She had a full-on kitchen setup in a tent where she prepared food, and it was our little refuge from the face numbing wind and rain. She made the best food for us every day. we talked, laughed, and ate late into the night everyday. I love how food is an international language, and even though I could barely speak Spanish we can still communicate through the food.
On the final day they went to a local Gaucho and scored a beautiful 2 kilo leg of lamb. They slow cooked it for 3 hours over open flame until it was perfectly colored on the outside and blushing on the inside. One huge thing I learned was how to determine the best temp for slow cooking meat over coals. You should be able to hold your hand over the heat for seven seconds until your hand feels like its melting. The meat should sizzle and color perfectly, but it should NEVER turn black and burn. Dark brown only. Plus add more salt than you think necessary.
After we were stuffed to the brim with lamb and tomato salad, Nydia brought out a jar of figs that said 2006 on it. After talking for a while in Spanish, Clint finally had a chance to translate for me. He said she canned this jar of sweet figs in 2006, and they haven’t had company large enough to finish the entire jar, so she’s been waiting for the right company. She kept loading them on our plate until the jar was finished.
The other day, I finally cracked open a jar of figs Clint’s mom gave me about a year ago. They tasted so similar that it brought me back to our Argentina trip. It’s crazy how tasting something can bring back so many memories. Canning fruits and vegetables is super fun and easy to do – just get the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving to make sure you do it safely.