On Pink Feather Boas and Becoming TheYummyMommy (or The Longest, least Culinary Post on my Blog so Far)

Note: I have no pictures from the trip, it seems! Boohoo, my phone died on me and some content couldn’t be recovered. I wish I still had some.

Pink feather boa

It’s pink. And feathery. What’s not to love?

Last February, I had a life changing flying solo weekend, in lovely NYC no less. It was so unexpected, so filled with new feelings, realizations, lovely experiences, vibrant new friends and a delicious closeness with the life force and uniqueness of other women, that I’ve almost had to forget it at times, because if I keep it alive within me I would need to light a fire under my ass and get my dream life going even faster, with the unshakeable determination that I can and I will.

I had received an invitation to take part in a free-of-charge , weekend long event hosted and presented by the one and only Mama Gena: a woman I admire, and who very deservedly charges thousands of dollars for her courses and classes. Just reading the email invitation made me swell with possibility and a whimsical desire to go. It seems like a no brainer, right? It’s free, it’s awesome, you’ll see New York again, it’s there for the grabbing. Just go! The only hiccup was this: I was in Costa Rica, had been having very fluctuating income for a few months and had just enough money to either (barely) pay for the plane tickets or pay for my expenses during. It seemed like the answer was a no.

Right at the end of the email invite, was a line that made me so pissed to read. Something along the lines of the event already being booked at full capacity, and to please release the seat for another woman if unable to come. In my rational mind, of course it made sense to let them know I would not be able to attend. Let another woman have the seat and soak up all the Mama Gena goodness! It was the mature and respectful thing to do. Unfortunately, I was not feeling particularly mature or respectful. I was feeling like a little girl who wanted something, deeply and unapologetically, who did not care to give any explanation, who just desired to be at the event and would not-Hell, no!- give up her seat at the Skirball Center.

This irrationality continued simmering in me for days, never bubbling over but also never completely going away, up until the Thursday prior to the event. I was checking my Gmail on my smartphone when I received an email reminder, mentioning accommodations, etc for the Womanly Arts Experience. It hit me like a ton of bricks, I was definitely not going. Shit. Unable to ignore my frustration, I told my mom “Ah, there is an awesome free event in NYC this weekend by a speaker I really admire. I could have gone, but it’s too late now”. She made some sweet, sympathetic comment and headed for her hair coloring appointment, and I went straight home and took a nap. I was woken from my slumber by a phone call from my mom. “Nana, listen up. I can lend you the money to go to NYC. You just pay me back in a few weeks. Are you awake? Do you still want to go?” If I wasn’t awake when the phone rang, I surely was by the time I heard her offer.  Of course I wanted to go! Where is my laptop?!?! Must search flights on Orbitz asap!

A bunch of questions fluttered through my mind like butterflies. Should I go? Don’t’ be silly, of course you should.  On retrospect, I must notice it is very interesting to me how you can desire something passionately, and all of a sudden, confronted with the prospect of getting fulfilled, you drop it like a hot potato, wondering if it really is worth having. It’s almost like your inner voice tells you that, no, false alarm, walk away because you don’t really get to have your way. A crappy, self-imposed reflex if I ever saw one. Luckily, desire won this time around, and I decided to go for it. I happily called my handsome boyfriend to tell him the good news, a short phone call where he was his encouraging, supporting self, and I went right back to packing outfits into my suitcase and figuring it all out. Where would I stay? NYC is notorious for being pricey, and on such short notice… I happened to remember that my third cousin Kelly had facebooked me to say she was living in NYC when I went for the second time in 2011. We didn’t get to meet that time. Maybe she still lived there after almost three years? I texted Kelly’s sister, asking whether she was still living in New York. Yes? Excellent.  Number, please? Check! I proceeded to ask my sweet cousin for a favor on steroids; to host me for four nights starting the very next evening. “Yes, of course, how wonderful to see you, I’m excited!”

So, both lodging and gracious host were checked. I booked my flight, for the very next day at noon. There were only two seats left (mine plus one) when I did. I packed my passport, I printed my directions, and got everything I could think of ready. I went to bed excited and prepared to be happy the next day.

Friday came. I was dropped off at the airport with plenty of time to spare.  I headed towards the check in counter, beaming. Traveling does this for me. They checked my bag in while the very nice airline lady checked my ticket and passport.  She frowned.

–          “Are you sure you packed the right passport, Johanna? This one is expired.”

I only have one passport, I though, my tummy sinking. I must have looked clueless to her. She went on, saying that if someone brought my valid passport over there should be no issue. There were still almost two hours’ time before boarding. They would keep my bag checked so I didn’t need to carry it. I was already pre-checked in, so it would be much faster when I returned. I just smiled and took my extremely expired passport from her hands. How did I not check my passport expiration? It had been over two years since I last traveled, so there.  I refused to beat myself up over it. For a tiny second, I panicked and freaked, though. I would need to pull the plug on this trip. It would end as unexpectedly as it began. I hoped they would refund my ticket. But then, calm took over me. No, it was not over. I allowed the excitement and hope to elevate me again. Everything had been lining up precisely right, so that I could go to NYC and see Mama Gena. I just had to keep riding the wave and trusting.

I stepped out and took a cab to the Immigrations office. The cab driver, when I told him where to go, asked me if I had some passport issue. I told him about my expired passport. He was very encouraging and optimistic, and as soon as we got there, said he’d stop the meter from running while I ran my errand, so that I wouldn’t need to pay too much.

I ran in, without much idea of whom to approach about this. I asked at the new passport window. No can do, it takes a couple of days to get a new passport. I asked a friendly looking security officer. Oh, boy, he had no idea but sure wished me luck. I still held on to my ray of hope. Finally, a lady pointed me in the right direction. If anyone could help me, it would be Reynaldo on windows 5. Three buildings down, that is. There was someone getting assistance on window 5, and from the sound of it, he had no intention of moving anytime soon unless he got what he wanted. Reynaldo (I assumed) kept patiently explaining that without a signed and authenticated authorization from the person he was attempting to represent, no action could be taken. Come on dude, I thought, move and make room for me! But then I thought, maybe guy on the line needs his help as much as I need mine, which took the edge of my time waiting in line. A few minutes later, he seemed to give, and it was my turn on window 5. I explained Reynaldo about my unexpected travel plans, my burning desire to attend the Womanly Arts Experience and about the cabby waiting for me in the parking lot. He was a middle aged black man, with a friendly smile, and he looked at me like an indulging father while he said “Ok, go to the bank in the next building and pay a –insert ridiculously low amount because I forgot the actual one here-  reactivation fee, and then come back and I’ll approve you.” Yay! I ran over to the bank. About 5 people stood in line before me, and from the sour look on their faces, it wasn’t moving fast at all. I soon gathered that only one of three cashiers were open, and the person in turn seemed to be doing every possible transaction under the sun.

I checked my watch. 50 minutes until the plane left. I took a calming breath, and told my line mates about my hurry to get on the plane. Would they mind if I went first? It was just a quick payment and I’d be out of their hair. Everybody but the couple at the front of the line said yes. Sorry, but they had been in line too long already; they wouldn’t be able to let me go first. Ok, I said. And then, out of the blue came my taxi driver, who wanted to check on my progress. I let him know I was almost done and just then the cashier was ready and the grumpy couple from two minutes ago actually changed their minds and let me cut in front of them. Not five minutes later, I was walking out of the Immigration office, with a revalidated passport (on which Reynaldo scribbled Last Trip after making me promise to get a new one before I next traveled) with Mr. Nice Cabbie, and we headed back to the airport at record speed.

I ran to the check in desk. The nice lady from a few hours ago was on break. New counter lady didn’t think I could still make it on the plane. “Please, I said, there must be something we can do, I’m pre-checked and my suitcase is already checked in.” She talked on her radio, saying my name, and got confirmation that I was on the boarding list and they were waiting for me. Ok, she said, winking, follow me as quick as you can. She took me over to the security check point and asked and officer to let me go through first. I was checked and cleared, and another airline person was waiting on the other side.

“Come on, hurry, you can put your shoes back on inside the plane!”-he cheered.

And I did just that. I boarded the plane with two minutes to spare, my boots in my hands, happy and trusting and I had been that morning. Slightly sweatier, maybe.

So, why did I bother writing down the rather detailed recount of my Womanly Arts Experience flight in? Was it perhaps to brag about the many kind and supporting  souls that contributed a little or a lot to get me there? Maybe. Mama Gena is all about the bragging*, after all. Or do I maybe have another agenda? Well, I do. Actually, the reason why I share it is because, as I am sure you noticed, there were a big number of times I might have just given up on going. From not having all the cash at hand, to the long shot lodging, to the expired passport, the impossible timeline and the crazy cab run in Costa Rican Friday traffic. What made the difference? I’m convinced my attitude sparked the success of my endeavor. I managed to stay happy through it all. I managed to let myself feel the anticipation of the trip first, and anything else second. And miraculously, the excitement of fulfilling my desire made all negative what ifs fade away. I know in my heart it was that spark of desire that shone through me, inspiring all those people to say yes when they could have said no, to help me when they might very well not have gone out of their  way at all. This doesn’t mean that I am exempt from letting the nagging inner voice take over. No one is, I think. I just like sharing this experience because, more than anything, it reminds me of how I conjured a little getaway under unlikely conditions, out of thin air, with the help of many and with great success.  From the moment my mom lit me up with her offer, to the moment I came back home I really felt the true celebration of people coming together to indulge me. I don’t know about you guys, but I can definitely get used to that.

There is so much more to tell about those four days I spent in New York City last February. I had been to the city twice before, and in very good company, too. But this time around it was a very free formed thing, no touristy landmark visits, no Broadway musical (much as I adore them), no big shopping spree. I had no idea what the Mama Gena event would be like, whom I would meet, where I would eat or even where exactly I’d be staying, for that matter.  I got to experience this uncertainty all by myself, not as a cause of distress or as an opening to overthink and overplan, but rather as a true mental and spiritual and emotional vacation.

My cousin Kelly, in the middle of no less than two jobs and her own plans, was such an incredibly welcoming person, a generous host and an amazing guide of the city night life. Even though we are distantly related and had only ever met once before, she was truly family and a dear friend all wrapped up in one. Her very cool boyfriend Chris , her roommates and friends all treated me in the best possible way and I will always be grateful to them.

During the weekend event itself, the collective energy of the 800 plus women gathered there was a loving, crazy, sexy, comforting blanket of pure deliciousness I felt myself wrapped in. Some of them I still communicate with, but even while meeting and engaging with them all is not entirely possible, the sense of community and tribe, a glorious blend of safety and exploration will stick with me forever. I was very lucky to walk away with the friendship of a Canadian dream team of kickass beautiful ladies plus one fierce reinvented, sassy folk musician from Texas.

The activities were nothing short of revolutionary. I was confronted with my deep, true desires. Unearthing them from myself.  Writing them down on a list. Wait, what? Reading them aloud to the stranger woman sitting next to me? Whoa! What if she thinks they are stupid? Shallow? Too big? Too ambitious? She didn’t. She thought they were beautiful and brave. Then, as I gave her  my attention while she read her desires to me, I realized I felt like rooting for her to achieve them with all my heart. Some of her desires made me realize I wanted similar things, too. Liberating and powerful. .Yes, on some level it felt like being naked in front of a stranger times ten, but I realized that she was feeling the same way, exposed and raw, and that the alternative was for us both to remain hidden. Then, no one would know us, and those things each of us really long for would probably lay buried and discarded in the darkness for years to come. That was way scarier than owning my desire list. And there was lots of fun to be had, too. Before things ever got too loaded, we had a dance break.  And another one. Quite a few a day, actually. I loved them.  We were given pink feather boas. We walked the runway, 800 Sister Goddesses cheering. We learned the Dance of Rage. It’s refreshing to embrace that it’s not all peaches and cream in life and we need tools for when things don’t go as planned, too, as well as the ones for celebrating.

Then on the day before departing, me and Kelly took to the streets with no set plans. This turned into a few fun errands, an inexplicable adventure at AT&T where we somehow charmed the sales man into getting Kelly a new iPad and smartphone replacement free of charge, a makeup run de rigour, a delicious lunch, an unexpected private tour of the Law and Order SVU set organized all the way from from California by Kelly’s very sweet sister Graceann and finally an impromptu hair makeover for me. From brunette to flaming redhead. Wrap up the night at a Prohibition style speakeasy tavern, some NYC late night walking and artisan pizza at 2 am. What a lovely way to top it all off.

Up until that trip, I don’t think I had ever felt so comfortable with the idea of the unknown. Every time I see my pink feather boa, it reminds me that don’t knowing exactly what lies ahead can be more of a promise than a threat. Little did I know this lesson would prove much more valuable that imagined in a few short months.

A big pearl of wisdom I gained from Mama Gena was the almost explosive value of telling yourself what it is that you want. No explanations, no apologies. In terms of love, career, finances, life.  What do your desires look like? No desire is too big or too small. I’ve come to realize that so many people go through life without knowing themselves what they truly want. That makes it very tricky to be able to tell others. Is it really surprising that relationships become unfulfilling when owning and sharing our desires sounds so radical and unusual?

So I made my desire list, I read and reread it, I looked at it until it felt completely my own, and then one day I just went for it and shared it with my man. It was both scary and exciting. I must say that many desires on it have become reality by now. It also led us to talk about our dreams and what we want the future to look like. And when the future we envisioned took a detour and surprised us with an unexpected addition, namely a little bun in my oven, my new found appreciation of the unknown came in handy. Big time.

I don’t mean to say that the idea of parenthood isn’t life changing in itself when you are looking to conceive. All I am saying is, when you are operating under the assumption that  your won’t be walking down the Mommy road, and find yourself on it all of a sudden, you very quickly realize there are a million and one things to consider that you had never even contemplated. From pregnancy to birthing to lactation, to baby care to education. And that is only the beginning. . It seems to never end. Should I over think and over plan, then? I say no. Of course I’ll read and learn, and decisions that need to be made will get their due attention. But more than anything, I want to feel like I am at that little trip to NYC. The possibilities, the excitement, the support and celebration. People helping out, lovely surprises. So, I took my pink feather boa and pinned it right over my computer, where I can see it all the time. Because mostly, my heart tells me that that ye, I don’t exactly know what this trip will look like, but I do know for sure that I will love it.

*Bragging is on of the Womanly Arts, consisting on telling someone else the good things that are happening to you, that you are creating, as a way of celebrating each other and inviting more goodness in.

Baby bump

And the bump is out! 14 weeks and counting ❤


Miracle Mushroom Soup (or how Low Carb can totally be High Flavor)

Hello, lovelies! I have been a very naughty girl… months and months have gone by without posting. Well, no more, sort of. The naughtiness will continue, but the posting is definitely to become frequent once again. Today´s will be a quickie, though. Not my usual blow by blow, since I had no idea this would be so good, so I only took a final picture. It´s very easy to make anyway, you´ll see.

Without further ado, I brag* that I made this deliciousness for lunch:

*This is a brag in the Mama Gena sense, not a self centered call for external attention, but rather a grateful celebration of good things present and an irresistible invitation to share in the joy.


What is this bowl of heaven, you ask? Well, no more and no less than a Low carb smokey, creamy Miracle Mushroom Soup. Yay! It´s just the perfect thing for the cold days many regions of the States have been getting, but it is not overly rich that it can´t be enjoyed here in the milder tropics. Basically, I am claiming it is perfect, haha!

Just a clarification: It´s Low Carb, not Low Cal. This is a teensy bit indulgent with the fats. Many a gluten free, prediabletic or diabetic person will feel invited to loosen up a little in that respect while keeping the low carb discipline. as for myself, I´ve been personally undergoing some lifestyle transformations, I call it my Butterfly Maiden journey. It´s gone from trying a gluten free diet, which wasn´t enough for me, to cutting sugars and now stepping into the unknown waters of a full on low carb plan from the Metabolism Miracle. I´ve just recently started Phase 1, yet I am compelled to say already my energy level is already soaring higher than in months and I do find the plan easy enough to follow and -most importantly- full of delicious options. If you or a loved one live with diabetes or metabolic issues, consider giving this a try.

As any self loving foodie would, I am now trying all kinds of Low carb variations of old favorites, as well as new and exciting possibilites.

This deliciousness is a soup a bit on the creamy side, but it is not a thick cream of mushroom and it´s very far from a chowder-like consistency. As long as the expectations are clear, you will be very happy with the outcome. In our list of ingredients, you´ll notice that there is no flour for a roux or corn starch for a slurry. The creaminess comes mostly from the cream cheese, so the reduction is key in giving it a deeper flavor and a more substantial body. 

About the smokey part, I used homemade chicken stock from wood roasted chicken bones and leftovers, so the soup is fragrant and inviting with the scent of woodfire. If you just have plain stock, the results will still be delicious but not smokey. An alternative could be adding some smoked bacon to the sautéed mushrooms. I know Liquid Smoke and Hickory flavored condiments can be got in the States, but we hardly see them around here in CR and I´m not really a fan of seasonings that have MSG and sugars and syrups in them. Your call, really.

For added scrumptiousness, I decided to top the soup with a poached egg. For extra protein, and also because I am infatuated with some delicious poached eggs I had for brunch in NYC alongside five amazing women. This is a culinary shoutout to them. Why not, right? Haha! And for all darlings that need not worry about carb content, I am sure adding some potatoes in would go divinely, or just indulging in some cheesy, garlicky croutons alongside. Much love, flavour and wellbeing, Enjoy!

Miracle Mushroom Soup

What you´ll need:

2 tablespoons butter

1 finely chopped onion

2 chopped garlic cloves

2 cups chopped celery (optional but highly recommended for texture)

2 pounds sliced mushrooms (I used fresh white button, porcini or Portobello would do well, too)

8 cups chicken broth

1 8 oz package cream cheese, softened

1 cup half and half

A few sprigs of fresh thyme

Salt and pepper to taste

Set the broth to simmer on low in a large enough soup pot.

Melt the butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat, add the onion and garlic until crystallized, then add in the celery and as soon as everything starts caramelizing, throw in the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper and cook until almost done. Add in the cream cheese and stir, until the heat of the mushrooms has melted it and everything looks like a creamy mushroom sauce.

Pour the creamy mushroom concoction into the simmering broth, add the half and half and check the taste. It should be very tasty but a bit low on salt. Stir well, put in the thyme sprigs and let simmer for about 20 to 30 minutes to reduce a bit. Remove the thyme sprigs, check the salt, season more if needed and serve hot with a poached egg on top. Yummy!Image



The Pursuit of Pleasure (or How to Cook right when Things go wrong)

Pleasure. What a scary, slippery and sometimes even foreign concept, right? That which we do, just for the enjoyment of doing it. A juicy little burst of content energy. That which brings us joy. I´ve been musing about this concept and its importance in everyday life for the last couple of months. I´ve been reading Mama Gena (ladies especially, you need to look into what this crazy genius of a woman is about), I took an online class with Liyana Silver (yet another fierce lady making the way for others to follow and be awesome), I ditched foods that taste good on my mouth but don´t feel great in my body and I must say I really started soaking up the goodness. I embraced the notion that yumminess is to be found and in small and seemingly unimportant things in our everyday life. I felt that, if we choose to welcome them, bigger things will start popping up for the taking, too and that feeling of magic and possibility swells up inside, glowing with happiness and warmth, like when you stand with your backside near the oven while baking and revel in the comforting feeling and the promise of baked goodies to come. Wait, was that an overshare?

So I embarked on the pursuit of pleasure in my daily life. Every day, I started asking myself what in my day I really, truly enjoyed. It turns out there´s a lot. The answers started popping up in my mind, quietly at first… the swings at the park while walking the dogs, a little Just Dance here and there to sweat and have fun, coloring a mandala full of beautiful colors and vibrant intention for people I love. Watching Connie and Carla for the gazillionth time. Kissing, oh, kissing. A subject on pleasure, all on its own.

Soon, I´d fix myself a little lunch, and undeniably a voice in my head would go “well, that was some seriously delicious goat cheese on crackers, so light and tangy with the sweet tomato slices and fragrant basil”. And my afternoon would seem brighter, smoother, more fun.

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Wonderful things would happen, I was fortunate enough to cater a cocktail party for Cirque du Soleil in Costa Rica. It was exciting, I felt honored and proud. I felt like celebrating with a special dinner. A few days back I´d remembered an extremely delicious homemade pizza my brother made for us a few years ago. He makes a remarkably thin, light and crispy pizza dough, and that time he topped it with goat cheese, caramelized butternut squash, fried sage and walnuts. It was insanely good! I decided I´d be taking those flavors ad putting them into a gluten free bomb of deliciousness. Risotto sounded like a perfect vehicle. It would be the recipe on my next blog post. So, I pleasurably shopped for the perfect ingredients, I happily cooked it up, took step by step pictures, we all enjoyed it, everyone loved it. I would be posting the recipe soon.

Everything was peachy. And then it wasn´t.

Sometimes things happen and really throw us off balance. A few weeks ago, I was in a car crash that could´ve been much, much worse, and I am very grateful it wasn´t. Still, it left me with a whiplash neck injury and not so fond memories of the last time someone crashed into us and how very un-fun the aftermath was. Again, I had headaches, a very tight neck which has me popping pills that make me groggy and sort of interfere with the groove of being me after a few days. I am dealing with unpleasant insurance company representatives again. Paperwork, X Rays, CAT scans, not going to work. On the sidelines, health concerns about people I care about. Not long ago, my mom lost a very dear friend in an untimely manner, and didn´t find out until about a week after her passing. Where is the joy in that?

Well, there isn´t. And yet, we can find it. If there is no finding it, then we can grow into it and shape our circumstances. We can create it. Just like coming up with a new recipe, exploring a new technique or experimenting with a new ingredient, I can and I will. Because once we have tasted the loveliness of pleasure in the everyday, once we have kissed, and danced, and laughed, and baked and loved and enjoyed, why would we ever settle for bitterness and crap? Life is wonderful, even when things around us make us forget. We get to choose how we look at it. So as long as I can, I will pursue pleasure. And kissing. And, of course, goat cheese.

Incidentally, my very fabulous chef friend Chandler Tomayko at TheChefWithTheRedShoes is hosting OurGrowingEdge, an event meant to give us all that edge to keep expanding this adventure of life in and out of the kitchen. Even in the middle of this crazy time, I am hurrying to be a part of it. This is my edge.



Goat cheese and butternut squash celebration risotto

This yields 4 to 6 helpings

What you´ll need:

4 cups peeled and diced butternut squash, plus a heaping cup butternut squash puree

1 bay leaf

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon butter

1 medium onion, finely diced

1 ½ cup white wine

About 6 ½ cups chicken stock, ideally homemade and low on salt (you can substitute veggie stock)

500 grams Arborio rice

A few sprigs of fresh thyme

1 teaspoon dried sage

Sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper

150 grams grated goat cheese (the ripe kind that is similar to parmesan in texture and strength)

1 cup toasted almonds, coarsely chopped for serving

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How we´ll do it:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Toss the cubed squash with a tablespoon of olive oil, salt and freshly cracked pepper. I used two medium to big butternut squash for this, it was enough for both the cubed part and the puree. Spread the cubed squash over two medium or one large baking sheets, and roast away until they turn golden brown and delicious on the outside and tender on the inside, about 30 minutes or so.

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While that happens, we´ll do risotto and squash puree. For the puree, place 1 and a half cups of stock, the bay leaf and the squash left over for pureeing over medium high heat in a small pan. Let it come to a boil and cook until tender. I used the round portion of one of my squash and the amount was spot on.

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For the risotto, heat the remaining olive oil and the butter in a sauce pan over medium heat. I was a bit hungry when preparing this, so I decided to go for a high frying pan so it would dry a bit sooner. Once it shimmers, add the finely diced onion and sweat it, I let it caramelize a tiny bit because I felt it would add to the flavor. Add the rice, to coat it evenly and stir until it looks translucent. Pour in the wine and keep simmering, stirring every few minutes, until it evaporates. Add the herbs and the stock, about a half a cup at a time, stir and let it absorb before adding the next ladleful.

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The squash in the pot should be ready by now, check it with a fork, and if it´s tender, set it aside. Remove it from the liquid in the pot, let it cool for a few minutes, and mash it nicely. Don´t throw away the stock it was cooked in, though, we might need it for the risotto. Continue to cook the risotto until it is a bit soupy but it has thickened. It should have a teensy little bit of a bite to it but not feel or taste underdone. Add the squash puree and ¾ of the goat cheese, mixing and allowing it to melt. Check the seasoning and add salt and pepper if needed. Add about a third of the roasted cubed squash and combine.

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Serve the risotto with a little sprinkle of the remaining goat cheese, cover with cubes of roasted squash and top with a handful of toasted almonds. I went with almonds instead of walnuts because this risotto is soooo creamy and luscious that it really needs some serious crunch for contrast. Let me tell you, if you have trouble finding yumminess in your life, this risotto will definitely point you in the right direction. Enjoy!

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Tamale time! (or how to make a Costa Rican tamal dish pie, step by step)

Hi, everyone! Confession time: I am cheating a little bit on this one. Imagine… I had this one just sitting on the bench. Part of this is a tutorial I wrote a while ago for my cousing Gracie and is only now seeing the light of day. And by day I mean the Internet. Lol.

This week I had a bunch of tamal related conversations, for some reason. I suppose that when you cook a lot, people kinda-sorta assume you cook anything and  everything. And I love it! In any case, I was asked quite a few tamal related questions and it was a little weird because this is not a traditional time for people to be talking or making tamales… like, say, Christmas. So, I decided it was a sign and I would do my part. Like the time Kim Kardashian came to me in a dream and suggested I wear my hair down less frequently that month… braids are in now anyway, right?

So, to tamal lore! Non foodies beware, I will be getting a bit technical.

Tamales (in case you are unfortunate enough not to know them yet) are a de-li-cious and relatively complex dish traditionally prepared and served in Costa Rica and other Central American countries around Christmas, New Year´s and other holidays or special occasions. Every country has their own spin on them. A globally known version uses corn husks as a wrapper, and has very little filling. We are talking about a different kind. Here in CR they are made mostly of corn masa, which is wrapped and cooked into plantain (banana) leaves. They are filled with either pork, chicken or both, and also some veggies ranging from carrots and peas to pieces of potato and even prunes and olives. There are also tamales of the mudo (mute) variety, these don´t usually include meat and are usually filled with refried beans and are about half the size of the traditional ones.

Once assembled, tamales are tied together in pairs with string, as a way of giving them a steadier shape , and making sure that the masa and ingredients don´t leak from it. They are then boiled in water, allowed to cool and then reheated before serving. Because of how many ingredients go into tamales, the tamal making process, or tamaleada is usually an extended family activity, in which the tasks are democratically divided among all members to create an efficient production line. The cooks on the family will usually be in charge of mixing and dressing the masa, preparing the meats and filling, and overall getting the flavors right before assembly. For tamales to be really good, all the individual components need to be spot on yummy. Someone will clean and cut the banana leaves, others will chop and prepare the veggies and others will be part of the assembly line, adding all ingredients before finally yet other family members tie and secure the
tamales. The boiling time and cooling process needs to be monitored as well. Because of the labor intensive nature of the process, it is rare to see a tamaleada in which less than- at least- 100 piñas (pairs) of tamales are made. It wouldn´t be worth it otherwise, really.

I love tamales as much as the next tico, if not more. But, alas, I have found that my family does not really do well in the heat of the tamaleada ( I love you, guys, but you know I am speaking the truth). Positions might be deserted before the task is complete, family members will be lost in action to distractions such as watching TV or going to bed. Shiny objects, even. Needless to say, this affects tamal quality and seriously dampens the holiday mood… I just couldn’t have that. Tamaleadas were cancelled in our household indefinitely. So, what to do when craving the delicious taste and tender texture of a tamal, I wondered. That´s when the tamal pie popped into my brain as the perfect alternative: quicker, way easier and just as yummy. This yields 12 – 15 portions.

Let´s do it!

What you´ll need:

 Enough plantain leaves to cover the inside and sides of a tempered glass baking dish, as well as the top of the pie (about 6)

For the Masa:

 4 cups “masa harina”, powdered corn flour (Harina de Maíz)
 4 cups chicken or pork broth, of half of each, low on the salt level
 3 tablespoons salt
 1 cup lard, chicharrón fat, bacon fat or similar (this is key)
 half a stick of butter
 2 cups mashed potatoes
 1 cup finely grated onion
 1 tablespoon minced garlic
 1 tablespoon salsa Lizano (you can get it online)
 a dash Tabasco

For the Filling:

 2 tablespoons oil
 2 medium onions, diced
 4 garlics, minced or pressed
 1 tablespoon achiote paste
 1 pound pork chuck, cubed
 1 pound cubed chicken meat, pref. dark (boneless thigh is best)
 24 pitted green olives, sliced
 15 prunes, chopped
 1/2 cup crushed tomatoes
 1 cup diced carrots
 1 cup frozen peas
 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
 1 tablespoon Salsa Lizano
 Dash of tabasco
 3 – 4 tablespoons masa powder, for thickning
 Optional: 1 small can of chickpeas, drained


In a searing pan, heat the oil until it shimmers, and add the cubed pork, salted and peppered, and the garlic. Let it turn a nice golden brown, stirring often, drain any rendered fat and set aside (that fat can be used for the masa). In the same pan, with a bit of oil, cristalize the onions, add the chicken, salted and peppered, cook about half way through, then add the carrots, olives, prunes, salsa lizano, tabasco, thyme and crushed tomatoes and let it sweat until the chicken is tender but done. Add the pork and the frozen peas and stir. Add the dry masa to give it some hold. Move to a bigger pot if necessary. Cook on medium low for a bit more. Check the seasoning, and reserve to use as filling.

This filling is twice as yummy as it looks :o9

This filling is twice as yummy as it looks :o9


In a bowl, mix the dry masa with the warm broth and the melted or softened lard. In a nonstick pot, melt the butter and cristalize the onions and garlic in it. Add the mashed potatoes and mix in the masa mixture, also the rest of the ingredients, cooking on low heat until the dough is thoroughly combined and separates from the sides of the pot, not too thick like mashed potatoes but not runny either. Taste it for seasoning, it should be savory and delicate but not bland. Never ever bland.

Oh, yeah, baby! A good tamal begins with gooood masa

Oh, yeah, baby! A good tamal begins with gooood masa

To prepare the dish, lightly grease the inside of a baking dish (about 13×9×3”) , and clean and cut the plantain leaves to fit it. Tip: Dampening the leaves with warm water will help making them more pliable. Place the leaves inside it, allowing some length of the leaves go over the sides of the
pan. It should look like this:

Hojas de lado

Pour a bit less than half the dough in it, spread it nice and evenly to create the first layer. Put the filling over the layer of masa.

Fist layer plus filling

Spread the filling evenly as well, and then pour the remaining masa over it. Decorate with slices of red pepper and sprigs of cilantro. You can get creative and do whatever you want, this is an old school inspired design of my own. I love it, all kitschy.

Go crazy or kitschy with the decoration :o)

Go crazy or kitschy with the decoration :o)

Cover the top with the remaining plantain leaves, it should be covered completely so the flavors are sealed in. Cover the top of the dish with aluminum foil, also making sure it is properly sealed.

I´m ready to go in the oven!

I´m ready to go in the oven!

Bake in a water bath for 1 hour and 15 minutes at 350 F. Prepare yourself for the delicious smell that will be coming out of the oven around a half hour into the baking.


A lot of the charm a tamal has comes not only from the yummy flavor but from the delicate texture it should have. This is a little similar to a lasagna in that you shouldn´t be serving it straight out of the oven or it will be all wobbly. It needs to rest for 15 to 25 minutes minimum.  If your crowd has any self restraint, a good tip is to allow the pie to cool completely, still covered by the plantain leaves, and then reheat in the oven in a water bath for 15 minutes. That way, it will be a tiny bit less tender but the pieces will hold their shape much better when serving. Either way, it´s really good. Delicioso!!!

I´d love it if you let me know if you try it and how you like it, XOXO,


P.S. Please excuse that I don´t have a picture of the finished tamal pie… we had company that day and that´s just how fast it went!

Getting the party started! (or, my first ever blog post)

Hello, everyone!

Ah, blogging. I have been dancing around the notion for at least a year. Every excuse in the book had a turn in explaining why this hadn´t happened. And then- finally!- it just felt like the right time, and having not just myself but someone else to be accountable to, I began writing what would be my first ever post.

A torrent of what ifs, maybes and possible subjects ran through my mind. Should I maybe blog about what possesses a 31 year old dentist still paying her college loan to up and start a catering business? Maybe I could write about my recipes, share my obsession with the stellar role food plays in memory making and pass my baking creations to other food lovers. Or maybe I could go the dental way and blog about how properly caring for one´s smile isn´t necessarily painful, expensive or even complicated, and how it is just one of the most confidence boosting, life affirming decisions anyone can take.

Then I realized that, important as the topic is, I had yet the more pressing, more practical decision to make. To write in English or in Spanish. Basic, ha. I weighed both options: Spanish, as my native language, would be easiest and most natural. But English, English feels so at home after all the books, the songs and the jobs. It´s also more universal, I might be read by a wider range of people. Then again, Spanish lends itself to much more cheekiness, it might be more fun.

Thinking about it made me feel how languages have a personality, sort of; a certain identity of their own. To me, English is like a man. He takes you effectively from point A to point B. He allows you, solid and reliable, to convey clear meaning in a few, usually short words. He lends himself to acronyms and contractions. He gets the job done. And, once you get to know him well, he will show you his playful side, full of possibilities.

Spanish on the other hand, is so much more like a woman. A different kind of strength. Whimsical. Musical. Unexpected. The same thing can be said in Spanish in countless ways, full of subtleties, undertones and nuances. Complex words and endless ways to arrange them. Ever changing… such beauty.

I love them both. They are each so wonderful in their own way. You´ve probably figured by now that I decided on English. Duh, haha. My tie breaker turned out to be that I have a badass group of global friends whom don´t all speak Spanish, and this is something I want to be able to share with them. So, the language is settled.

And next time, the content. I promise,