Way back when I was 18, I lived in Costa Rica. It was one of the happiest times of my life. Costa Rica was still not really on the tourist radar. In fact, a trip to the library for information resulted in three paragraphs in an encyclopedia. Now, there are usually at least 10 complete travel books on any library or book store shelf.
I lived with a wonderful family who was loving, intelligent, generous and fun. Beto, the father was a medical doctor who practiced philosophy on the side. On Saturday mornings, he and his wife, Astrid, would sit at the dining room table with a big pot of delicious coffee, tortillas, fresh natilla (A yummy tart cream) and a pack of cigarettes. Their youngest daughter, Marcia, would be drawing. The baby, Xunia, was happily sitting at the table covered in the white cream. I would sit and listen to the two of them discuss all sorts of life's questions. It was wonderful! Truly, comfort food for the tummy, heart and the brain.
My best friend was Astrid's sister, Ilse. She was a gift from God and lived just up the street with her parents. Ilse's physical size was the only thing small about her. She loved to have big fun. She would stop by the house and pull me out the door with plans to go to the beach, the disco or to a dance in Sarchi. Life was never boring with Ilse.
One time, there was an epidemic of African Pink Eye going around. This Conjunctivitis was not fun and of course, I got it. The problem was that I was supposed to go on a double date with Ilse. She was determined to have me cured in time to play. I remember laying on my bed with the sun steaming in the window. Ilse came over and told me that the curanderas believed that a few drops of honey in each eye would take care of the problem. She had a little tiny dish of honey and a toothpick in her hand. She instructed me to let just a few drops of honey fall into each eye and she would be back that evening to pick me up. Like a fool, I followed her instructions. I can only tell you that I don't remember child birth hurting as much as that honey and I did not go to the party with her that night.
Because of Ilse, I got to live Costa Rica like a local. I learned how to pick coffee beans at her father's cafetal so that we would have enough money to get into the discoteca. I got to walk the beach at midnight in Puntarenas. I even took a very long bus trip that was similar to "Romancing the Stone." I believe that my Spanish got better each day because of Ilse. She never slowed her speech for me, nor did she "dummy down" her vocabulary. I had to follow along or get left behind.
I was also supposed to be going to school. I really didn't spend a lot of time there. Algorithms in Spanish are just as boring as in any other language. I would skip class and nobody ever seemed to mind.
One thing I do remember about school was the lady who sat on the street corner selling snacks. She would show up about the same time every day with a little table covered with treats. My favorites were the fruit filled empanadas and the buñuelos. For some reason, I remember them also being called something like orejas or elephant ears. What I do remember was a crisply fried disk of dough sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. You could also get them covered with a lovely brown sugar syrup. It was sticky, sweet and great with a cup of dark Costa Rican coffee.
At work this week, we were having a get together with all the employees. Everybody was supposed to bring something that would go with Tacos. I immediately thought of empanadas and buñuelos. So, on Friday, I mixed up some empanadas filled with cherry jelly. They were just ok. My pie dough was a bit too fluffy and it made the empanadas a little to airy. I left them in a bowl to drizzle frosting on later. Harry, my husband, thought they tasted fine and ate them all. So, I decided on buñuelos.
I had tried to make buñuelos before, but they were not very crispy nor light. I found a recipe that I adapted a bit and they turned out much better this time. I kept them far away from Harry and had plenty to take to the party. We even had a few left overs for breakfast with coffee the next morning.
1/4 c sugar
1 t cooking oil
2 1/4 t baking powder
2 c flour (or more as needed)
1 t salt
1 c sugar
2 t cinnamon
vegetable oil for frying
In a large bowl combine the eggs, sugar and 1 t cooking oil and whisk until thick. In a separate bowl, stir together the 1 1/4 c flour, baking powder and salt. Slowly add the dry mix to the wet. It will be very sticky. Put the remaining 1/4 c flour onto the counter (better yet, a wooden bread board). Turn dough out and knead until smooth. You may need more flour. Shape into 16 balls and rolls each one into a thin circle about 5" in diameter. I found the thinner the better. Let stand for about 10 minutes. Heat oil in a deep dutch oven to 350 degrees. Fry circles until golden brown, turning once. Drain on paper towels and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar mixture. These are so good with Costa Rican coffee, but the kind of coffee processed there. It really really is so much better!