A Winter’s Tale from Costa Rica

No Florizel or Perdita, no statues coming to life…just a quiet winter’s evening in the country.

It has been raining since mid afternoon….cloudbursts to start with, filling the streams with the roaring dangerous waters…then thunderstorms…and now steady rain which will end sometime after we have gone to bed.

The sheep don’t go out when it rains…..the cattle have come up to the corral to eat the cameroon – fodder grass – that Danilo has put through the cutter…the horses are with them.

In the house all is peaceful after the dramas of the morning when the PC wouldn’t work and we had to contact Hewlett Packard’s helpline in Mexico to go through the troubleshooting process and finally to relaunch the Windows programme.
I was helped by a delightful man who realised very rapidly that he didn’t have to go through the script – and who did the whole thing in English for which I was most grateful as I find computerese bad enough in my own language and impossible in anyone else’s.

Luzmilla has cleaned the house from top to bottom – dogs fleeing to the chicken houses and men making themselves scarce….
Danilo has gone home.

The last batch of the Christmas puddings are steaming…

The straight-from-the-cow milk, full of cream, has been scalded and is cooling before adding the yoghurt starter…

I made a pizza for supper…but the red wine we tried with it was a disaster. Tannic wasn’t the word for it….

We checked the front label. Three years old.
Then we checked the back label…..where the wine’s ‘sweet tannins’ were vaunted…’nuff said!

So tomorrow I’ll be making a stew….a recipe from one of Leo’s aunts.
We haven’t eaten this for a while…but a bottle of sweetly tannic wine makes a good excuse….

Caramelise sliced onions…set aside.
Brown beef. Return onions to the pan with garlic, thyme and bay leaves.
Cover the meat with a half and half mix of wine and beef stock.
Add juniper berries.
Dollop in equal amounts of jam and mustard.
Cook until beef is tender and thicken the sauce with cornflour.

To be served with ‘stumf’…
Onions caramelised, thinly sliced potato laid on the top…water to barely cover and cooked gently until the potatoes are cooked and the water has evaporated.

It’s a potato dish Leo loves…you can substitute carrot or cabbage for the onion…and ideal for a rainy night with a hefty stew.

Shortly I must take the dogs out before bed….they would normally take themselves but we have recently been given a new addition – the Pernicious Poodle Puppy – who doesn’t yet know her way around and so needs to be accompanied…and then I’m off to bed myself.

But over a cup of mate tea I have time to realise how tranquil things are…how much I have unwound….and how, if I am ever to write the book about my life and times in France, I will have to gird up the loins and put time aside to do it.

I have had two attempts…one, to use old blog posts and the other to write from scratch.
Now Perpetua has suggested an essay format and that seems a good idea.

So today I looked out my notes…and tried to start up Scrivener. Of that, least said the better. Back to the notes.

But I would be grateful if anyone has any suggestions for a format….something which would confine my soapboxing to reasonable limits but which is not yet another of the ‘how I hung up my high heels and tamed the septic tank’ sagas.

I listened to a last song before venturing out into the rain…and blessed my good fortune that the winter here is mild.
No cold winter howling o’er moorland and mountain as in ‘The Road and the Miles to Dundee’.


52 thoughts on “A Winter’s Tale from Costa Rica”

  1. Oh please send some of that rain up here to drought ridden So. Calif. In the weather you’re having a pizza in the oven and Christmas pudding steaming makes for a warmer feel inside, and yummy aroma. Glad you had good help with your PC and last but not least enjoy the stew tomorrow, sounds like another perfect dish–of course the wine is the best excuse. Stay warm and dry.

    1. I like the rainy season….and I’d love to be able to package some of it up and send it to you.
      It’s not cold, but cool enough for stews and suchlike to be very welcome.

      I’m not so keen on the dry season….all that watering to be done every evening!

  2. A series of essays along the lines of “Lettres de Mon Moulin” probably work very well and allow you to benefit from your posts.

    1. Now that’s what I’m lacking!
      So if you come over with the sou’wester and go back with all the jerseys we don’t use so that you can follow the advice of the energy company bosses about how to avoid paying their extortionate bills…

  3. The older I get the less interested in wrapping my tastebuds around tannins I get. This is verging on un-Australian, but really I find drinking something with flavours so intrusive you have to work at swallowing is tedious. Beef casserole is the best place for wine like that (and a lot of nonsense is written about only cooking with wine you are prepared to drink).

    1. I’m not a fan of tannin either…and I noticed that some of the Loire reds were getting an increase in tannin as vignerons found that the cabernet sauvingon would ripen with the change in climate and were using an increasing proportion to the cabernet franc.
      If a wine is fit to drink it’s going into me, not into the pot….

  4. It took me HOURS to make my lentil soup. How come you do so much at one time eh? I love the rain there, it reminds me of home!

    1. The rain reminds me of home too!
      And as for doing so much at one time I won’t give you the old chestnut about women multi-tasking, but I will say that had you spent time in the proximity of my father’s mother you would have found that idle hands were soon given something to be getting on with…and a deadline to meet!
      The price of red lentils here is scandalous!

  5. Wonderful rendition, delightfully sanguine. Everything slows down except your creative voice, that is incredibly rich. Hope your answer comes soon regarding a manuscript or something akin. Looking forward to reading! I’m ‘seeing’ a book with pictures and outtakes of what you consider ‘best’ about your posts from France, England, and Costa Rica.

  6. Oh, Nikisimis above says it just right – everything slows down except your creative voice…..you definitely have that ability to make your readsd race along with you, hanging on to every word, or stopping to feast a little along the way.
    Finding a format is a difficult one, Helen but without doubt you have some amazing material to start with. Axxx

    1. I suppose I’ve been lucky enough to have met some amazing people in my time….they’ve really informed my life.
      I’m going to try the essay formula….but I have already realised one of my problems…I find categorising difficult.
      When I was working that was an advantage…I could go at things from a different angle…but it’s a bind not only for tagging posts but also for organising material.
      Still, onwards and upwards….

  7. I will be reading through the comments to see what suggestions you get about writing your memoir from your time in France. I am faced with the same problem. I want to write the story of our family’s adoptions, but am not quite sure how to approach it. I have a first draft but it needs to be totally redone. It’s interesting Perpetua suggested an essay format. That is what I have been thinking needs to be done with mine as well.

    Try to stay dry in all that rain!

    1. What about putting the same question on your blog…I think people who read you regularly will have a good appreciation of your ‘voice’ and how best to use it.

      Wet doesn’t worry me…except when it’s cold!

  8. I love your writing, I love that you can evoke such peacefulness after the computer traumas. I can hear the rain dripping and see the animals sheltering. We are pondering how you could join up the dots to make a book……………

  9. I also love rain and if we didn’t have such a leaky house, I would welcome it with open arms. I opened a bottle of red wine last week that had been in the cupboard for some time. I don’t drink red because it gives me migraines. Mr A drank a glass and I had a sip and it was awful, but it has made a couple of tasty casseroles this week.

    1. It doesn’t go to waste, does it!
      I’ve never been a fan of hot weather….luckily here it’s not all that hot in the dry season, but hot enough to give me an hour or so watering in the evening.

  10. You appear to live an idyllic life in Costa Rica. But how do you find time for it all? You must put in very long days with very little ‘do-nothing-time’, (i.e. read) or some such.

    I am fiddling around with various formats for my memoir myself. Haven’t yet come to a decision. I think it will have to be done in chapters describing particular events or periods. My memoir is childhood only, which means it would be very short if it were a consecutive story. Some of the reminiscence posts are outlines of chapters.

    Blog writing and reading and commenting rather get in the way; if I could organise myself better I’d be half-way through with the memoir by now. The two things – the writing blogposts, I mean – and the writing stories and memoir could be combined but I have yet to decide whether I want to write blogposts for myself or a lot of bloggers who don’t go for detailed and lengthy writing.

    What problems do you encounter with writing?

    1. I get up with the sun….or before. I’ve always done this from the far off days of commuting to work and I just go on from there…though these days I try to nip in a siesta after lunch.

      I can read anywhere…stirring the pot, eating lunch if on my own…book in one hand. My mother said I should have been born with three….

      I find that blog posts, essays and a book are three very different beasts and have so far tried twice on a book but decided it was rambling about and put it aside.

      This summer, when I can’t do much outside – apart from the blasted watering – I will take up the notes again and get my head down to work.

      Why not start a second blog for the memoir? Then you can see how the chapter and theme idea looks and reads. You could keep the blog private if you’d prefer until you’d made up your mind about how you think the memoir is forming.

      I have no trouble writing (apart from the terrible typos when I pick up the wrong glasses) – but have a great deal of trouble having undisturbed time to do so.
      I seem to be married to the Person from Porlock…..and I don’t even have the opium……

      1. Thank you, Helen.
        I find I spend too much time doing nothing-ish, just daydreaming. But I am a carer and my time is not entirely my own. There you have my own Person From Porlock right there. And then there’s the dog. And the garden.

        Excuses, excuses.

        I’ve been thinking about a second blog for the purposes of writing more than just the usual blog drivel, something without ‘playing to the audience’.

        My main problem is that I get up late and go to bed (very) late; I could write late at night; I’ve tried that, I found I couldn’t sleep at all for ideas roaming in my head.

        Excuses, excuses.

        1. I do know what you mean about being a carer. Leo is much better than he was…but still not well and one can be called away at any time.
          Why not try that second blog?
          I find – and always have found – that ideas come to me in the early hours of the morning. When working I used to keep a notepad by the bed to record the idea…it was usually work connected.
          Now I get up and type it!

          Bring on the opium…..

  11. So pleased to hear that you are getting closer to writing that book, you have such a cornucopia of splendid material and it will definitely be a wonderful read.Have you considered putting it into a diary format?

  12. My dear lady, quality writing is in a severe decline since the onslaught of the terrible book of faces that most of the younger generations aspire to. The drintling of some is enough to make a corpse wince. Luckily, you always submit very interesting pieces, many of which have plucked me from the edge of boredom on more than one occasion. I like the idea of writing ones memoirs in flinty segments as seen here in your blog.

    Go with your gut, but rest assured it will appeal to many with its fine, nepenthe qualities. Good luck!

  13. If the writing is of the same quality as this post, it will be a winner. I really enjoyed this evocative glimpse of life in the wet season in Costa Rica and have carefully bookmarked your menu suggestions. 🙂

    I think you need to ask yourself what it is you’re writing. Is it a memoir of your own life and its main events, and if so is it thematic or chronological? It is a book of reflections on your life and experiences and your impressions of the very different countries you’ve lived in? If you can get that sorted out the format should follow more easily. One thing’d certain, though, those Scottish roots still show and must be included.

    1. That was very helpful…I think reflections rather than a memoir – a memoir involves too much of the lives of others who may not wish to be memorialised….
      I am assembling the notes again and pulling them apart into themes – with some difficulty!

      The recipe is a good one…the original included cloves but I’m not that fond of finding one on my plate…and the potato dshes are very much comfort food – though obviously the carrot and cabbage just get cooked as opposed to caramelised and i find i have to start them off well before the potato goes in.

  14. Just sipping some red, listening to Calum and mulling your formatting question. Hmmm. I know nothing of writing memoirs but for years made a living writing very long and involved business proposals, the kind that run to 200,000 words about involve massive infrastructure works and such.

    Each was fearsome to approach and daunting to start. My secret was no secret at all. Just start writing and writing and writing. Don’t even think to edit or organize until a tall pile had been produced.

    Write about things out of order. Jump from point to point. Craft a short story and then expound on something with intensity. Once some real volume exists, then go back and start to slot the pieces where best they fit. From there comes the form and structure. The hardest part was the first sentence. Always.

    1. Tom, that’s very helpful…I spend too much time thinking about categories and not enough on just getting it all down.

      I think that writing a business proposal would have me running for the hills…

  15. Very evocative post. Rainy here and breezy but really chilly yet.

    re: your writing conundrum– agree with Perpetua essays might be a good option, Otherwise [as my impression is that you’re wanting to produce reflections of a roving life] how about vignettes which are simply organised by country/region lived in? That way you have freedom to keep things a bit eclectic.

  16. Your writing is always fascinating. I will want to read it in whatever form it appears, and if you want to try out different formats and practice on us…..you’ll get no complaints, I guarantee.

  17. There are so many forms to memoir. My advice is to read, read, and read some more. I have actually taken memoirs I thought fit my ‘saga’ and outlined them for form and function. I read them the way students study literature.

    I, too, am working on our ordeal here in Talamanca. Best bet for writing, just sit down and hash out that first draft. Oh, and I LOVE Scrivener. If you have the time and inclination, Gwen Hernandez has a knockout online class (cheap, too). http://gwenhernandez.com/scrivener-training/scrivener-online-classes/ She will teach you all you need to know to make it run the way you want it to. I don’t think I use even half of its capabilities, but I am familiar with my work flow and it suits me. She is also the author of Scrivener for Dummies, an invaluable resource.

  18. Also, Tom is right. Just getting it down on the computer, or paper, or anywhere is the first and worst hurtle. I’ll send you via PM the great John McPhee talking about the shitty first draft. Here is part of what he says: ”The way to do a piece of writing is three or four times over, never once. For me, the hardest part comes first, getting something—anything—out in front of me. Sometimes in a nervous frenzy I just fling words as if I were flinging mud at a wall. Blurt out, heave out, babble out something—anything—as a first draft. With that you have achieved a sort of nucleus.”
    Even _he_still struggles with the first draft. I found that so comfortiing.

    1. Thank you for both comments…really helpful. I read the Scrivener manual…turned to use it and thought…two different planets? So I’ll be looking at the class…and thowing mud at the wall….

      I’m looking forward to your Talamanca experience…there are hints in your posts!

    1. Well, it came as a surpirse to me too…I’m used to British sheep who seem to be out in all winds and weathers….these are hairy rather than woolly but their coats have lanolin as sheep should – they just refuse to go out in the rain.

  19. I do like the sound of that potato dish!

    However, I must take issue with the use of the “C” word given the date of the post. Notwithstanding its use in connection with pud, it still causes fear and alarm this early in November.

    Good luck with the book! 😀

    1. It’s lucky I’m not your side of the pond or you’d be setting Labrador Security Services on to me for the ‘C’ crime…

      That potato recipe is tops…really nice.
      You can make it with spinach too….if so inclined.
      Or swiss chard.

  20. I am told that you should never use a wine for cooking that you would not drink. Maybe for the connoisseur this is fine but I have used some really rubbish wine in casseroles and it tastes good to me 🙂 Love the sound of your recipe particularly the potatoes.

    Life in Costa Rica sounds wonderful to me and the fact that you are not likely to get snow at Christmas sounds even better. How I hate the cold.

    We seem to be in the middle of the rainy season here as well! 32 mm last night and it has not stopped all day – as yet not measured!

    Take care the two of you and have a good week. Diane

    1. French friends who were good cooks said that if you were going to cook with wine you burned off the alcohol anyway whether it went into a casserole or was reduced to add to a sauce….and they couldn’t see much chance of a fine aroma lasting either.
      They were in a wine producing area, and either used their own wine or that of neighbours – but just the everyday stuff – and the results were smashing!
      I’ve a recipe from one of them for chicken sauted with garlic and red wine vinegar…and that’s smashing too!
      Friends are telling my how foul the weather is in France at the moment…I don’t miss cold rain…or snow!
      There was a sensation here on Friday…it looked as it snow had fallen on the peak of one of the volcanoes….everything white…but it turned out to be hailstones.

      I hope your bottling marathon is coming to en end…though I envy you being able to get proper Kilner jars….

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