Monday, September 30, 2013

LATISM Top Latina Blogger/Bloguera Retreat Recap!

I am finally back and trying to catch up on everything. When I leave home, I always seem to come back to a lot of blogging I need to do. Plus, I always come back tired. Luckily, I didn't get sick this trip.

Where do I start? I left home on Tuesday and flew into New York. I always love going to New York but this trip it felt weird being there without Tom. We always have such a blast when we go because we do Broadway shows and great restaurants, this trip not so much.

When I arrived at the Waldorf Astoria there was a mix up with rooms so although I got there early, I didn't get into my room until late. I went out and had dinner with some bloggers and then came back, Plus, we had to bunk with 3 other bloggers so it was a little weird. I am not into bunking with anyone but my husband or family but I lucked out big time because I had the best roomies ever.

The next day started out with the Blogger Retreat. We had breakfast and then we all introduced ourselves and there were a lot of the same ladies who came to Washington last year and a lot of newbie bloggers, which was nice. We also had a few sessions and lunch before we headed out to the United Nations.

We actually visited the Ford Foundation first and had a few of the U.N. staff talk to us about the projects going on. They do amazing work. The U.N. was also amazing and I will cover that in another post with lots of pictures. I have always wanted to go tot he U.N. and I finally got the opportunity. I am grateful for that. It's just so damn cool.

After the U.N., we headed back to the hotel. I decided to try and get some alone time because that's how I roll and decided to do dinner by myself. One of my roommates decided to hang out so I invited her out to dinner with me. Luckily, Ana is from New York so she took me to Times Square and we had dinner at a burger joint called The Counter. It was fantastic! I can't get a good burger here in Sylva so when I can have a good burger and fries, I am all over that.

I was also glad that Ana took me to Times Square because although I have been there before, it is always exciting and awesome to be in the middle of all that chaos!

The next day, we had a few sessions in the morning and then we headed out to the U.S. Open on the train. That was a weird adventure because we thought we were going to do some community service with Big Brothers, Big Sisters but, in the end, the kids bus broke down and no one showed up. So we all left.

On the way back, we stopped at a deli and I was able to get a Pastrami sandwich. Not a great one but at least it was Pastrami. Pastrami is another thing I do not get here at home. Yep, that's how our food situation is here in Sylva.

That night I worked registration for the Latism conference and then did a little of the party but I was tired and headed back to my room early to decompress and have alone time. I need alone time. That's just me.

That was the end of the Bloguera Retreat. It was short and sweet. It was great to see old friends and make new ones. Plus, they had some good speakers and the U.N. was definitely a highlight.

The next few days were about the LATISM conference itself and I will continue my story in another post.

Disclosure: as a Top Latina Bloguera, Latism paid for my travel and accommodation. No other compensation was given.

Friday, September 27, 2013

The First Sign of Fall!

I walked out of the house yesterday and saw the first signs of Fall in Western North Carolina! WOO! It is so beautiful around here during Fall. I will be posting a zillion pictures! Here is the first one!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Carolyn at the United Nations!

As part of the LATISM Top Latina Bloggers Retreat, we visited the United Nations. Okay, I am a total political nerd so this was a huge thrill for me! I have always wanted to go to the U.N. I finally can cross that off my bucket list! YAY!

Monday, September 23, 2013

I am back from NYC!

I am back and do have some pictures but I need a few days to recover! I will try and post something this week!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Hello from NYC

I took this last night while in Times Square. Chicago is my favorite musical. I love New York!!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Wordless Wednesday ~ Funky Hat

My mom gave me this funky Costa Rican hat that she got at the Cafe Britt Coffee Tour. It's funky but it looked good. I would so wear this in my garden!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Top Latina Bloggers Retreat 2013 and my Immigration Story!

Yes folks, I am headed out again! This time I am headed for New York for the week. If you remember last year, I was chosen by Latinos in Social Media (LATISM) as one of the top Latina Blogueras (Blogger). I was chosen again this year. This year promises to be amazing since we are visiting the U.N.

Who knew when I started my blogs in 2009, they would take me all the way to the White House and now the United Nations. It's pretty awesome if I do say so myself. And I also get to meet and mingle with other great Latina bloggers at this wonderful LATISM event! I have met some of the women attending and they are amazing. I am also excited to meet the newbies! It will be great to spend time with them talking, brainstorming and learning how to become better bloggers and how to use our influence in social media for advocacy.

I am very excited. It is an honor to have been selected. And, I also have to thank LATISM for putting on such a great event.

Besides the Top Latina Blogger Retreat, we also get to attend the LATISM conference that is also going on this week. This is my first LATISM conference so I am excited to be attending. There will be great speakers and sessions. Plus, there is even an immigration march on Saturday. LATISM is pushing for Immigration Reform. I am all for Immigration Reform because I understand how much a part of this country was built because of immigrants whether they be Latinos or others.

As part of the whole experience, I was asked to write my Immigration Story. I don't have much of a story because I was born and raised in the United States. But my parents did emigrate to the United States in the 1950's. Both came at separate times and met here. They left Costa Rica for more opportunities.

The good thing about Costa Rica, is that people who come here usually come just for the better opportunities. Unlike other Latin Americans, Ticos (Costa Ricans) have the advantage of not leaving their country because of political persecution or extreme poverty. So, my parents arrived here and did pretty well.

It always amazes me how much courage it must take to leave your own country for another. They didn't speak English when they came here. Yet, they worked and lived and made a life. There was a little group of Ticos we knew and hung out with but I know it must have been hard for them. Both worked in factory jobs. I remember my mom also sewed for a living. They didn't have great jobs but they still were able to purchase a house and put us in private Catholic School.

We always had enough to eat and clothes to wear. I am not saying there weren't hard times but they did the best they can. What I am thankful for is that they came here and we were born here in the United States. Being born here, offered us so many more opportunities than we would have had in Costa Rica. We had a great education. I was able to graduate from the University of Miami and have a pretty good life.

I also had the advantage of having two cultures instead of one. While I will always be a gringa first, I am also a Tica. I have two countries instead of one. It is a gift I treasure. I have even taken steps to hold dual citizenship. So soon I will be a Gringa-Tica.

I also treasure the lessons taught to me by my parents. Besides having courage to move away from their country, they taught me a work ethic I still have. They worked hard and taught us we should as well.

Our life has always been easier than their life and I thank them for that. I also believe everyone should be allowed to seek a better life. Growing up in Los Angeles, I always encountered undocumented workers and they were always the hardest workers and nicest people. That was always my experience. I hope that one day others realize that immigrants built this country. We are all immigrants in some way or another. And immigration is not a bad thing.

P.S. Keep an eye out here and on my Facebook page and Twitter feed as I post about my adventures!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Easy Guacamole Recipe!

It's no secret that I LOVE avocados. I will eat them every which I can. My favorite way to eat them is to make guacamole.

Guacamole is so delicious and can be eaten alone or in other food. I love eating it with tortilla chips and on tacos. I also love adding it to white rice and putting it on top of my steak. Sometimes I will just eat spoonfuls of the stuff.

It is so much better than the processed guacamole you can buy at the store. Plus, it is wickedly easy to make and very healthy. Remember avocados are a good fat! Here is how I make my guacamole.

Ingredients needed: avocados, lemon or lime, cilantro, red onion, jalapenos, tomatoes and spices. 

Chop jalapenos. 

Chop cilantro.

Chop red onions. I like using red onions because they are sharper than white or yellow onions. But you can use any onion you like. During summer, I use green onions from the garden. 

Chop tomatoes. You can leave these out if you want. 

I use lemons for the acid but limes work as well. It is a taste preference. 

Chop avocados. 

Add all ingredients into a bowl and mix. Add salt and pepper to taste. Sometimes, I add a little coriander powder and ground cumin. I also sometimes add green chile powder if I want more heat. That's it. In less than 20 minutes you can have fresh guacamole. 

Ready to eat! Yum!

Buen provecho!!

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Last of our Summer Veggies

Sad. This is the last harvest of the summer. We have a few cherry tomatoes and green peppers left but everything else is over. But now Fall is coming and I love Fall. What I hate about Fall is that after it, winter comes. Blah.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Scout's Excellent Adventure!

Scout is doing well but we know the time is near and we will have to make a hard decision. In order to make her life as good as it can be, we are allowing her to go back outside and enjoy the outdoors.

She started as an outdoor cat and now will end her life as a semi-outdoor cat. In the morning, we let her out. She sleeps on a chair on the front porch and stays there the whole day. She gets up once in a while to go do her business or wander around but, mainly, she rests and sleeps.

The other day I noticed she was gone from her chair and I went to find her. I found her in our backyard at the fish pond. Our pond has no fish but it is filled with water. That is where she loves to dronk water. UGH. It is dirty but she would rather drink from the pond than from her water dish, go figure.

If it makes her happy, then we don't care. We are trying to make her last days, good days.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Fried Green Tomatoes!

I have always believed that in a past life, I was a Southern Belle. I have always had an affinity for Southern Food even though I never had southern food growing up. I don't think I ate real southern food until I was in my late 20's.

Thus, my belief that I must have lived in the South in a past life because I took to southern food like a fish to water. Now that I do live in the South, I can have my fill. And, I have learned to cook southern food. One of my most favorite things to eat is: Fried Green Tomatoes.

Fried Green Tomatoes are these little round circles of flavor. They are also easy peasy to make. I never followed a recipe. I just ate them and figured out what was needed to make them. I decided that corn meal was the best coating and I dip them in a little buttermilk and egg to coat. Then I fry those babies up. Here is my recipe:

We had some nice green tomatoes from our garden. It is tough to find them in the supermarket, so I lucked out. First, slice them up into rounds and salt. 

Set up the dipping station. I dipped first in buttermilk, then a little flour with salt and pepper. Then into an egg wash and then into some corn meal that I had seasoned with seasoned salt, pepper, 
garlic powder and onion powder. 

Dip and coat. 


When the tomatoes are ready, take them out of the oil and drain on paper towels.
 Add a pinch of salt. 

Serve and eat. I served mine with some delicious Buttermilk Ranch Dressing. YUMMO! 

These are so easy to make. It's not brain surgery folks. If I can do it, you can too. And they are a great appetizer or snack. I also love putting them into salad because they are tart and crispy. 

Buen Provecho!! 

Monday, September 9, 2013

How to make Costa Rican tamales!

Making Costa Rican tamales is a labor of love. It usually takes a minimum of 2 days to make them and sometimes it can take more than that. Making these tamales is time intensive. It is grueling and it can be tiring. But it is what you do to have these little packets of deliciousness and love.

I remember when I was little, we would make hundreds of tamales. In Costa Rica, this is a tradition. You make them and then give them to your family and friends. I wrote a post about my childhood memories here. To really understand the importance of tamales in our family, this post is a must read.

I have always wanted to have the recipe for making tamales. I do not think it has ever been written down. My mom and grandmother just seemed to know what needed to be done. As a child, I never cared to learn the recipe. It was just something we did. Every Christmas, we were recruited to work the tamale line. I do not even know at what age I began helping but it was pretty early on. There was no way of getting out of working the tamale line.

As I got older, I realized the importance of keeping the tradition alive. My grandmother died, I moved away to Miami and my mom moved to Costa Rica. But my mom keep the tradition alive in Costa Rica. Sometimes, I would be there to help, most times not. With my blog, I wanted to write the recipe down and document it for myself and for whoever cared to find out how our family made tamales. This post is my labor of love.

The first thing you need to do before making tamales is to make sure you have the correct supplies. You will need various pots. You need a huge pot to make the masa. You can cook the masa in smaller posts but the big one ensures the masa has the same flavoring. You will also need banana leaves, parchment paper, string and various dishes to have the production like ready.

The night before, my mom takes a pork shoulder and a chicken and marinades them in various spices and herbs. She stuffs lemon up the chicken's wazoo. She adds onions, cilantro, red peppers, salt and pepper and Salsa Lizano. You can add other spices if you want as well. The goal is to flavor the meat and, thus, flavoring the broth that will go into the masa. The next day, the pork and chicken are cooked. You just fill the pot up with water and put it on the stove to cook. This is the broth that will be used to flavor the masa.

You must also add potatoes to the masa. So the night before, you can make up a batch of mashed potatoes. You have to make sure that the potatoes are mashed up as fine as possible. The potatoes have to be smooth. But you do not need to add milk, just use the potatoes and some butter. The ratio of potatoes to masa is 2 to 1. For every 2 pounds of masa, you need a pound of potatoes. Make sure the potatoes are a little watery and not thickened.

You must also add fat to the masa. When we were younger, my mom and grandmother used chicharrones to flavor the masa. Then I remember we started using bacon to flavor the masa. I think chicharrones are the best choice though.  Of course, you can use pork fat or lard but we never used that. My mom also uses margarine but I would rather use butter. The other thing to do is to take the fat off the pork shoulder and fry that up as well. It is about the flavor. The fat ratio is important. The only way to figure out if you have enough is to watch the masa as it is cooking and look at the edge of the pot. My mom said if you can see a little fat rise up, it is good.

What I learned about making tamales this time with my mom is that she is a willy-nilly cook as well. I think I got that from her and my grandmother. I would watch her add more masa or fat just because she knew how the texture of the masa had to be.

As for the masa, my mom uses Maseca corn flour. You can grind your own corn but why? It is so much easier to go to the store and buy the corn flour. Take the Maseca flour and put it into a large pot. Add the potatoes and start mixing. The next step is to take a stick of butter and melt it down and add that as well. Also, take the broth from the pork and chicken you cooked and start adding it slowly to the masa. The whole time you need to keep mixing the masa which is sort of a pain.

The masa must be smooth. So you have to work all the lumps out. The trick at this point in the process is to ensure the masa is smooth. You can work out the lumps with your hands as well but that is messy. You want the masa pretty loose but not watery. It will thicken up when you cook it.

Once the potatoes, butter, broth are added you can now start flavoring the masa. This has been my job for a while. While my mom and grandmother did a great job, I do it better. I just have a better palate. What you need to flavor the masa is salt, pepper, the bacon grease or other fat, Salsa Lizano and Tabasco. To ensure the masa stays smooth but flavorful, we blend up the bacon and/or fat with a little of the broth and then add it to the masa. You want it well blended so it does not affect the smoothness of the masa. Once the masa is flavored, it is time to cook it.

We cook the masa in batches. It must be cooked before it is used in the tamales otherwise it is too watery. Take some of the masa and start cooking it on the stove. The key is to never stop stirring. If you do, it can burn and you have ruined the masa. This is also when you check the edges of the pot to see if you have enough fat in the masa. If not, add more butter or bacon grease. If it is too thick, you can add a little broth. But at this point in the process, the masa should not need anything. You want to make sure that the consistency is like polenta. It should be thick but not stiff. It should simmer, not boil. Once the masa cools though, it will get stiff so you have to make the tamales right away.

Before the masa is ready, you should have made all the preparations for the tamale filling. One of the important elements is rice. Now the rice is prepared but it is not cooked all the way. We make the rice and add achiote (annatto seed) for coloring and flavoring. Cook the rice so it is still al dente. Do not cook it all the way. And you add a ton of black pepper.

You also have to prepare the meat. The meat is easy. You pull apart the chicken you cooked and put it in a bowl. Then you cut up the pork in equal size chunks. My mom adds encurtido de mostaza (pickled vegetables in mustard). She does this so the meat has more flavor and stays moist. You do not use the pickled vegetables only the meat in the filling though.

We made both bean and regular tamales. The bean tamales were easy. We used already prepared black beans and then just flavored them. For the regular tamales, you have to have a zillion ingredients. At least that is how my family makes them. Here is the list of the fillings we use: carrots, green beans, capers, olives, prunes, raisins, garbanzo beans, red pepper strips and peas. I might have forgotten some ingredients but that list is pretty complete. Plus, you have the rice, meat and chicken. I like my tamales with just rice, meat and olives. So I get special tamales.

We use little bowls to make the production line. It makes it much easier. The banana leaves are the next important thing you have to have. We bought them at the Central Market already prepped and cut. When my mom ran out and had one of the guards who takes care of the parking lot across the street cut some for us. Before you use the banana leaves, they must be be cooked. You can either boil and clean them or grill them. Then they are cut into squares.

The best set up is to have stations set up. There should be one person who arranges the banana leaves. You need two per tamale. Then that same person puts a dollop of masa on the banana leaf. Then they add a tablespoon of the rice. Then it is passed on to the next person who adds the meat and chicken and maybe one or two of the other ingredients. Then on to the next person who finishes adding the ingredients. The last person should be the tamale wrapper.

The one thing I have never learned to do is wrap tamales. It is like making a burrito though. You wrap them up and make sure they are tight. Then you tie them with string, in packages of two.

Once the tamales are wrapped and tied, they now need to be cooked. You take the tamales and boil them for about an hour. Once that is done, they are ready to eat. You have to let them cool just a little and then eat them.

After they cool you can store them in the fridge and just boil them again to eat them. They are best eaten for breakfast or with a little coffee in the afternoon. These are so wonderful. It is hard work though. My mom made a lot this last trip and all our friends and family benefited from me asking her to make them so I could document it on my blog. I benefited too because I got to eat Costa Rican tamales once again!

I may one day make a small batch here at home. My problem is that Tom is not a huge fan and I am not sure if my friends here in NC would like these tamales. So I would have to make a tiny batch just for me. But now the family recipe has been passed down.

Buen Provecho!