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(506) 2223-1327       Published Monday, June 15, 2009,  in Vol. 9, No. 116       E-mail us
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Tourism institute seeks help in 'branding' nation
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

With a tourism industry in distress and an erosion of the nation's worldwide image, government officials want to put a new face on the country.

In a message sent out over the name of Carlos Ricardo Benavides, tourism minister, residents here and individuals elsewhere are invited to have their say on what the new Costa Rican image might be. There is a survey posted to a Web site.

In the e-mail  Benavides explained that what officials hope to obtain is more than a logo or a slogan. They seek to demonstrate the social values held by the people here. He said that the effort would require intense work but did not specify how much the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo might have budgeted for the process.

Benavides said that qualitative and quantitative techniques will be used to focus on the new image.

The institute has been slow in adopting valid methods. In fact, despite having identified a New Jersey family as the 2 millionth visitor in 2008, the institute does not really know how many tourists entered Costa Rica.

The employees blame the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería for not providing the data.

Of critical importance for those in the tourism business are up-to-date statistics broken down by country of origin. Although the tourism institute talks about 2 million visitors, the bulk are Nicaraguans and residents from other Latin countries who are not the free-spending types resort owners seek. In fact, every time an expat perpetual tourist enters the country, and most do so four times a year, the arrival is chalked up as another tourist. The best estimate of true tourists from the United States, Canada, Europe and Asia is about 200,000 for the year.

The survey the institute is promoting on the Web lacks validity as a quantitative tool because the respondents are not chosen randomly. Instead it is more a qualitative tool, like a giant focus group, to get an idea of some of the issues.

The current image Costa Rica presents is captured in the slogan "No Artificial Ingredients." The idea is to promote experiences with nature.

The survey is at this location and required about 20 minutes to fill out. Officials will keep the page up through Friday.  Self identification is optional.
no artificial ingredients
The current tourism slogan

Questions are about problems and images respondents might have of the country, including crime and corruption. The survey is available in English and in Spanish.

As with other tourism projects, officials overlook the prosperous sex tourism segment and exclude it from any responses. For years this has been the elephant in the living room for Costa Rican officials.
For many in other countries, Costa Rica is identified as a sex tourism destination, and this is an image officials will have to counter for a successful campaign if they choose.

Also involved in what is being called country branding is the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto and the Promotora de Comercio Exterior de Costa Rica, the promotional entity.

Costa Rica certainly is a choice tourism destination, especially when Jack Frost holds the Northern Hemisphere in his icy hand. But a growing crime problem and publication of pollution problems, including at the well-known Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio, have resulted in international bad press. A major financial magazine also just ran an article on land invasions and property thefts here.

That compounds an already grim real estate and tourism situation, mostly the fault of international financial contractions and overbuilding.

The tourism institute has not been very successful with advertising. A $4.5 million effort in Germany during the last World Cup match hardly caused a blip in European tourism. The institute's Web page, is not even in the top 100,000 in the United States or Canada, according to, an subsidiary that tracks Web usage.

In fact, Alexa shows the tourism institute page at 403,259 in the United Kingdom, 1,093 in Costa Rica and 301,150 in Germany. It's composite rank of 257,163 is lower than many similar pages. And Alexa reports that more than 50 percent of the persons who do visit the page, do so via search engines, an inefficient and out-dated system when there are millions of pages on the Web.

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Midyear salary proposals
to be offered this week

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Representatives of workers will present their proposal for a midyear salary adjustment today at the Ministerio de Trabajo y Seguridad Social.

The hearing will be before the Consejo Nacional de Salarios, which will eventually make a decision on the increase.

Representatives of employers will present their proposal Wednesday.  The government will be making a proposal a week from today.

The proposals are unlikely to be in the 8 percent ranges, as has been the case in previous years. Lower employment and the current financial situation suggest that the outcome will be a minimal increase, although the colon has continued to decline against the U.S. dollar.

Each year on Jan. 1 and July 1 new salary guidelines go into effect for both public and private employees. Typically these result in raises in the minimum salary.  Many employees work at the minimum salary, and the labor ministry keeps a list of salaries by job description.

License plate restrictions
get the boot from Sala IV

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Sala IV constitutional court finally threw out license plate restrictions in the downtown area.

The appeal was presented by Rafael Angel Guillén Elizondo, a former government official. He argued that the restriction was based on a presidential decree and not on action by the Asamblea Legislativa.

Two decrees issued in July 2008 told motorists they could not enter the greater San José area one day a week, depending on their license plate number.

The decrees have been appealed before without success. What is new are reports that the decree did not help improve the downtown air pollution. In addition, a second decree expanded the area from La Uruca to include the Circunvalación to the south and the Mall San Pedro area on the east. This was far larger than the restrictions of an area confined to the downtown.

The initial decree covered peak traffic hours in the morning and evening. A later decree restricted the zone from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The court rejected the decree as of Friday, suggesting that no one will get a refund on tickets issued up to that date.

The court said it was basing its decision on the fact that the executive branch has established sanctions for violating the decree, an area reserved for the Asamblea Legislativa, and that the decree restricted a fundamental liberty of free transit. The court also said that the decree incorrectly enhanced the power of the Policía de Tránsito.

One observer attributed the 180-degree turn by the constitutional court to the possibility that one or more magistrates might have gotten tickets. The Corte Suprema de Justicia building is downtown.

Property owners picked
to put in new sidewalks

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Three constitutional appeals seeking sidewalks gained Sala IV support last week. But there was a hook.

Residents of Los Chiles, Zapote and San Pablo de Heredia complained that sidewalks were not available in all places in their towns. They said this was a disadvantage to the disabled.

The court agreed, but instead of telling the municipalities to install sidewalks, the magistrates told the local officials to enforce their own rules that will required property owners to put in the sidewalks.

Two sections in the Código Municipal require property owners to foot the bill for sidewalks.

Eight face allegations
of helping Internet fraud

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Anti-fraud agents detained eight persons Friday and said they allowed themselves to be used as middlemen for Internet fraud.

Arrests were made in San José, Cartago, and Grecia.

Agents said that the persons detained had received six figure amounts in colons from the illegal Internet activities of others.

The amounts ranged up to 2 million colons or about $3,500, agents said.

Typically in Internet fraud operations, those who capture the password and other bank access information transfer the money to other accounts whose owners receive a commission to pass the money to others. That way the original criminal is hard to trace.

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Judge, mayor and police figure as suspects in major cases
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Actions by law enforcement late last week involved allegations against policemen, a judge and a municipal mayor.

In Limón a criminal court judge was detained Friday on an allegation that she was helping narcotraffickers.

Also in Limón, investigators raided the home of the municipal mayor in a probe of fake paperwork.

And in the southern zone, agents finally made arrests in the case of the missing 320 kilos of cocaine. They detained three policemen, a former policeman, a judicial guard and four other individuals.

The judge who was detained briefly is Yorleni Serrano Quintero. Investigators do not claim she was directly involved in trafficking drugs, but they allege that she assisted a gang that moved nearly a ton of cocaine by hiding the substance in unexpected places: among vegetables in a tractor-trailer and inside the full tank of a liquid chemical trailer.

Officials said that her voice turned up on tapped telephone calls during the investigation of the drug case.

The judge spent nearly a day in jail before being released on conditional liberty. She has been suspended from her job.

Luis Paulino Mora Mora, president of the Corte Suprema de Justicia, quickly released a statement in which he pointed out that more than 10,000 persons work for the courts and that the institution has zero tolerance for corruption. He promised that the case would be handled with objectivity.

The mayor of the Municipalidad de Limón is being investigated for activities that are alleged to have taken place before he took office. He is a lawyer and notary.

The mayor is Eduardo Barboza. The Poder Judicial said he
was being investigated for falsification of documents, use of false documents and fraud. Agents exercised three search warrants Thursday. One was for the municipal building. The others were for the mayor's home and his office.

The drug case in the southern zone has been dragging on since the robbery took place March 26. The suspected drugs were confiscated from a fastboat and held in a prosecutor's office in the Golfito court building.

From the moment that a robbery was reported, agents have been talking about an inside job. The arrests they made followed a series of raids during the months of April and May in search of the drugs.

The case became a scandal because officials of the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública never came up with a solid reason why the drugs were not airlifted to San José, as is the custom. Instead, the drugs languished several days in inadequate storage vulnerable to exactly what happened.

Some of those assigned to guard the drugs who were among those arrested Friday and Saturday already were facing departmental hearings on administrative matters, according to Oldemar Madrigal, a vice minister.

The robbery happened at night, and the two Fuerza Pública officers guarding the building said they were taken by surprise.

The arrests Friday and Saturday resulted from close surveillance of the men involved with the drugs. One purchased an expensive vehicle. Another started work on an addition to his home.

In making the arrests, police frequently came upon large sums in the possession of the suspects. One carried $19,000.

Police still have not located the drugs or made all the arrests. Officials suspect that part of the haul came to San José and was sold there.

Highway agency gets approval for Alajuelita overpass
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Those traffic circles on the Circunvalación seemed like a good idea at the time, but they have become one of the main reasons the highway is jammed at rush hour.

Motorists will be pleased to learn that the Contraloría de la República has approved a direct contract to MECO S.A. for a $9 million job to build an overpass at the Alajuelita circle.

The contract approval was announced Friday.

The contract, similar to others on the same highway, will span the traffic circle with a raised bridge to carry the Circunvalación. In this case the bridge will be 412 meters
or about 1,352 feet long. The bridge will be six lanes wide.  The company has nine months to do the job. The work will begin in July. There will be appropriate entrance and exit ramps.

The job is under the jurisdiction of the Consejo Nacional de Vialidad.

The Circunvalación is the bypass route that runs south of San José centro from the Autopista General Canãs through the Hatillos to Zapote and then north past the Universidad de Costa Rica to Goicoechea. A northern loop is proposed.

Highway officials already have built overpasses at the Desamparados and San Sebastian traffic circles, greatly reducing the tieups at those locations.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, June 15, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 116

Lifestyle-releated diseases to be targeted in developing world
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The National Institutes of Health, America's federally-funded medical research organization, is spearheading efforts to establish chronic disease centers in 11 developing countries, where illnesses such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease have become bigger killers than infectious disease. 

Chronic, lifestyle-related diseases caused by excessive fast-food consumption and lack of exercise now account for an estimated 60 percent of deaths in developing countries.  That is a public health toll greater than that of parasitic diseases, which are also a leading cause of illness and death in the poorest countries.
If nothing is done to stop the trend, experts say that by 2015, 41 million people around the world will succumb each year to conditions such as diabetes and heart disease, with half of the victims younger than 70 years of age.

The U.S. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute is helping to establish chronic disease centers in 11 countries, including India, China, Guatemala, Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, Tunisia and at the U.S.-Mexico border.  The centers' mission will be to educate people about chronic illnesses and to help treat patients.

Richard Smith, director of the United Health Chronic Disease Initiative in London, which is partnering with the U.S. health institute, says there has been a steady increase in chronic illnesses in developing countries as people move to cities and adopt Western lifestyles.

"And now, these diseases are far and away the biggest killers in all countries nearly, apart from sub-Saharan
Africa," said Smith. "And even soon in sub-Saharan Africa, they will be the major killers."

Smith says the World Health Organization has attempted to coordinate a response to the problems of chronic illnesses.  But, he says, most of the money earmarked by donor countries for chronic disease programs has gone toward fighting infectious disease.

"But we need to begin to respond to the problem of chronic disease," he said. "And really this collaboration that we have with the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute is really one of the first programs where serious amounts of resources have been put into beginning to develop programs to try and at the very least slow down this pandemic and preferably begin to turn it around."

In addition to developing education and treatment programs, Smith says the new centers will conduct clinical trials of drugs to treat chronic illness.

Elizabeth Nabel, director of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, said the centers are being established at hospitals, academic centers and universities.

"They will be developing surveillance and prevention measures to monitor chronic disease situations in their countries," said Elizabeth Nabel. "So it is most appropriate as they develop these methods to work closely with the ministry of health in their country to develop public health measures."

The U.S. National Institutes of Health is providing $26 million in start-up money for the five-year program, which was announced this week in the medical journal The Lancet. 

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users guide

This is a brief users guide to A.M. Costa Rica.

Old pages

Each day someone complains via e-mail that the newspages are from yesterday or the day before. A.M. Costa Rica staffers check every page and every link when the newspaper is made available at 2 a.m. each week day.

So the problem is with the browser in each reader's computer. Particularly when the connection with the  server is slow, a computer will look to the latest page in its internal memory and serve up that page.

Readers should refresh the page and, if necessary, dump the cache of their computer, if this problem persists. Readers in Costa Rica have this problem frequently because the local Internet provider has continual problems.


The A.M. Costa Rica search page has a list of all previous editions by date and a space to search for specific words and phrases. The search will return links to archived pages.


A typical edition will consist of a front page and four other newspages. Each of these pages can be reached by links near the top and bottom of the pages.


Five classified pages are updated daily. Employment listings are free, as are listings for accommodations wanted, articles for sale and articles wanted. The tourism page and the real estate sales and real estate rentals are updated daily.

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New software lets cell users
write messages in the air

By the Duke University
Office of News and commuications

It’s a familiar scene in airports and train stations. Hands full with luggage, briefcase, laptop or coat and there’s something you need to remember, like the level and row numbers where you parked your car in the deck. What do you do?

Instead of relying on your memory or finding a place to put all your stuff down to find a pen and paper, wouldn’t it be so convenient to simply write “level 4, row H” in the air and be able to retrieve it later?

Engineering students at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, have taken advantage of the accelerometers in emerging cell phones to create an application that permits users to write short notes in the air with their phone, and have that message automatically sent to an e-mail address.

Accelerometers are the devices in phones that not only keep track of the phone’s movements, but make it possible for the display screens to rotate from landscape to portrait modes depending on how the phone is rotated. These devices are always “on,” so there is no additional burden on the phone to use this new application.

“We developed an application that uses the built-in accelerometers in cell phones to recognize human writing,” said Sandip Agrawal, electrical and computer engineering senior at Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering, who with Duke graduate student Ionut Constandache developed the PhonePoint Pen. “By holding the phone like a pen, you can write short messages or draw simple diagrams in the air.

“The accelerometer converts the gestures to images, which can be sent to any e-mail address for future reference,” Constandache said. “Also, say you’re in a class and there is an interesting slide on the screen. We foresee being able to take a photo of the slide and write a quick note on it for future reference. The potential uses are practically limitless. That this prototype works validates the feasibility of such a pen.”

Agrawal received an award for excellence for the development of the PhonePoint Pen application. The award was presented last week.

While this first generation application permits the writing of short messages or simple drawings, it is only a matter of time before this prototype system will be able to handle larger and more complex air-writing capabilities, according to Agrawal’s mentor, Romit Roy Choudhury, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering.

“And today, especially now in the age of Twitter and micro-blogs, the speed in which you send information becomes more important,” Choudhury said.

Choudhury expects that the PhonePoint Pen prototype will be available for download within the next few months.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, June 15, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 116

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Lakers' take NBA crown,
beating Magic in 5th game

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The Los Angeles Lakers have won the National Basketball Association championship, defeating the host Orlando Magic, 99-86, in Game Five to claim the best-of-seven finals, 4-1.

All five Orlando starters scored in double figures Sunday.  But they still could not hold back the Lakers, who trailed by nine points in the second period before surging ahead by 10 at halftime.

Kobe Bryant had a game high 30 points and was the finals Most Valuable Player.

Los Angeles has now won 15 NBA titles and the first since 2002.  Bryant has his fourth ring and first since Shaquille O'Neal left the team following a public feud.  The win also gives Phil Jackson an NBA record 10th title as a coach.

U.S. soccer team to face
world champion Italy

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The U.S. men's soccer team is in South Africa where it will play its opening match of the eight-team Confederations Cup today in Pretoria against World Champion Italy. That will be followed by group games with five-time World Cup champion Brazil and Egypt. European champion Spain, Iraq, New Zealand and host South Africa are in the other group.

The U.S. soccer team has been holding its pre-tournament practices at Pilditch Stadium in Pretoria, a short ride from its hotel in the official Confederations Cup team bus.

The first 15 minutes are open to the media, and then reporters can return at the conclusion of practice to talk to team members.
U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard, who plays professionally for Everton, knows he has a big task, trying to keep Italy's front line off the scoreboard.

U.S. head coach Bob Bradley said he is aware the spotlight will be on this game because it features the reigning world champions. He believes his players are ready for the challenge.

It gets no easier after Italy, the U.S. soccer team faces Brazil on Thursday.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, June 15, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 116

Cardiologists do not recommend the
editor's bacon and garlic Cartago potato medley.
For recipe, see below.

Cartago will show off complexities
of its cusine June 27

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There is a lot more to the Provincia de Cartago than potatoes, and cooks of the communities will be out to prove this June 27.

The event is another of the culture ministry's efforts to capture the nation's traditions.

When most Costa Ricans think of Cartago, the words chilly and potatoes leap to their minds. The province, centered around the Canton of Cartago is generally higher than communities in the Central Valley. Cartago itself at 1,435 meters is 274 meters (about 900 feet) higher than the bulk of San José.

That may be bad for sunbathing, but the weather is great for temperate vegetable crops, including the potato, carrot, onions and even the chayote. And these work their way into the area's traditional menus.

There are seven other cantons, La Unión, Jiménez, Turrialba, Oreamuno, Alvarado, El Guarco and Paraíso. Each has developed their own variations on food. After all, they have had plenty of time. Cartago was founded in the middle of the 16th century, and Spanish settled in the region due to the healthy climate. The city was the nation's capital until 1823.

The region is also known for its conservatism, so one can expect that the Spanish tradition will be a strong influence on the local foods.

The culture ministry's Centro de Investigación y Conservación del Patrimonio Cultural is putting on the contest in the Club Social de Cartago starting at 9 a.m.

The good part is that only a portion of the food contestants bring goes to the judges. The rest is offered to the public. Eventually the recipes will be compiled into a book as the centro has done with other sections of Costa Rica.

A similar event seven years ago did have representative dishes of potatoes, including stuffed potatoes (papa rellena) and potato and cheese bread (pan de papa y queso).

But certainly there also will be pozol, that stick-to-the-ribs corn and pork soup or stew.

Contestants will compete in three areas, the main dish, dessert and drinks. There are money prizes for winners.

Garlic Cartago potatoes

By popular demand (Well, we got some e-mails, anyway), we include the editor's famous garlic potato medley shunned by cardiologists the world over.


2 cans of Imperial (or similar) beer
half pound bacon (200 grams más o menos)
1 large onion
12 toes of garlic (more or less)
12 small (golf ball size potatoes or six tennis ball size) Cartago potatoes
cup of olive oil
Whatever extra seasonings you like such as Italian or Mexican or maybe you like parsley, thyme, bay leaves, or cilantro.


Open and start drinking the first can of beer.

Cut into smaller pieces and start frying bacon in large fry pan.

In a few minutes combine chopped onion and chopped garlic in the frying pan. Put in the seasoning you like now. Add about half the oil. Keep heat moderate to let the tastes meld.

Don't forget the beer.

Wash and clean the small Cartago potatoes. Nuke them in a microwave for from 5 to 7 minutes.  Then chop them into sixths or eighths.

Don't forget the beer.

Put the potatoes in the same frying pan with the onions, bacon, and garlic for a few minutes. Sprinkle with the rest of the oil. Then after a few minutes transfer the entire dish to a metal or glass baking dish and stick in a pre-heated oven.

Depending on the time for dinner, cover with foil to keep garlic, onions and bacon from burning. Make sure to remove the foil during the last 10 minutes to make the potatoes slices crisp.

Reward yourself with the second beer. (This is really a beer-type dish. But port after dinner goes well, too.)

Serve with beer and meat of your choice, perhaps a pork roast.

mixture of nature's boundy

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas  
Vitamin on the half shell to eat out of hand or in drinks.
From left, a seedy grandilla, a naranjilla with dark interior, a guava,
starfruit and a piece of snowy white

A few thousand colons provides
a bounty of delicious fruits

By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Delights from star fruit to guavas to the prickly guyabana and the delicate naranjilla are on the market now, and you can get your daily dose of vitamin C with little trouble.

In water, milk or cocktails, the fruits give up their delicious tastes.

The rainy season brings pure water to revitalize the earth and improve the environment. It also gives a boost for some fruits. And this is a good time to explore fruity options.

Costa Rica has a long list of delicious tropical varieties rich in vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, and C.

Blending fruits with water to make a refresco is common in Costa Rican homes. Water is preferred for its lower costs, but the daring can try milk and even cream for some of the fruit. Watch out for seeds if a blender is to be used.

A reporter went to the Mercado Central with a few thousand colons to seek out fresh fruit. Another option is the ferias del agricultor, but many markets are just one day a week.

At the central market there were at least guayabas, maracuyas, carambolas, naranjillas and guanabanas.

Here is what they are:

The guayabas or guavas are 1,100 colons a kilo, about $1.93. The baseball-size green fruit has five small protrusions on the flower end. Some fruits have up to 500 seeds but they can be eaten.  They are Mexican or Central American natives now found all over the world.

The carambola is the starfruit now grown locally and available in most North American supermarkets but not at 600 colons a kilo, or a bit more than $1. The whole fruit, including skin, can be eaten.

The maracuyá is the passion fruit or what is called grandilla here in Costa Rica. They are available for 850 colons a kilo, about $1.50. The fruit can be several colors, but most here are yellow. There are plenty of seeds. They can be eaten but some folks like to strain them for juice.

The naranjillas (1,500 colons per kilo) are like tiny oranges, with lots of seeds and a dark interior. They can be eaten out of hand, and the juice is green. Unripe fruits are sour but can be eaten with sprinklings of salt.

The guanabana is the soursop, a giant fruit that frequently is cut up to be sold. It runs 1,200 a kilo ($2.10) at the market. The creamy meat of the plant is eaten out of hand or juiced. The black seeds, about the size of those in a watermelon, are not eaten.

Each of these fruits can be the subject of its own monograph. But the wise shopper will try new fruits and in different ways. Some can end up in jam as well as drinks. Others can be reduced to a sweet syrup.

Some fruits have a reputation as a medicine or a cure. But that is a whole different article.

Pigs with the right genes sought
for the best tasting meat

By the University of the West of England Press Office

How can pigs be produced that provide healthy and yet good tasting meat?

Meat eating quality and healthiness are closely related to the amount and type of fat. During the last decade there has been extensive selection towards leaner genotypes which has resulted in reduction of not only undesirable subcutaneous fat, but also in a dramatic decrease in desirable intramuscular fat (commonly known as “marbling” fat).

Intramuscular fat has the key input in meat tenderness and juiciness and a low level of intramuscular fat is associated with dry and unpalatable pork. The challenge which the pig producing industry is facing now is how to increase intramuscular fat without increasing subcutaneous fat?

A project which has recently started at the Institute of Biosensing Technology in collaboration with the Centre for Research in Biomedicine at the University of the West of England (UWE) aims to identify the genes controlling subcutaneous and intramuscular fat deposition. The end-aim of this work is to provide data which could form a basis for developing a genetic test for intramuscular fat and which could assist pig breeders in genetic selection.

 The project is undertaken by Duncan Marriott, a doctoral student with a amster's degree in meat science and five years experience as a research technician at the University of Bristol's School of Clinical Veterinary Science.

“Pigs need to be leaner to produce healthy meat but to carry
sufficient intramuscular fat to maintain good eating quality,"
Marriott explaind. "The project will be conducted on a number of commercial pig breeds, which differ in intramuscular fat content. My challenge is to identify the genes controlling both the intramuscular and subcutaneous fat content in different breeds.”

pejibaye halved
A.M. Costa Rica photo      
The first step is to half the palm nuts

Editor's favorite soup is easy
and very much Costa Rican

By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica

Here's the lowdown on the editor's favorite soup. One serving is about a zillion calories, so Weight Watchers can tune out now.

The beauty of pejibaye soup is that it is easy to make, tastes great and is uniquely Costa Rican. The fruit have been grown here since long before Columbus.

Pejibayes are those palm nuts found in the vegetable sauna at the grocery. They range from orange to green and resemble large, bobbing acorns. When they are hot, they are easier to peel.

Purdue University in Indiana says that one average pejibaye fruit contains 1,096 calories. They are the perfect junk food: low in protein, high in fat.

Of course they're high in fat, they are the product of a palm tree. One palm tree can produce more than 140 pounds of nuts in a year. So they are far from endangered.

The biggest challenge in making pejibaye soup is in forcing yourself not to eat the peeled halves. They make a nice hor d'oeuvre topped with mayonnaise. Another challenge might be in getting someone else to peel and halve the fruit. There is a pit that must be removed. (Hey, Honey, can you give me a hand for a minute . . . . ?)

The soup is a snap. Drip a little oil in a saucepan and make tender chopped onions, garlic and maybe even jalapeños. Then drop in about a dozen pejibaye halves . Or two dozen. It really makes no difference because you can cut the soup with milk or cream to make it the consistency you desire.

Add a cup or two of water and begin breaking up the pejibaye. Or you could run the whole mixture through a blender. Add milk or cream to reach the consistency of soup. Serve hot and season to taste.

A little experimentation will show that the pejibaye mixture is perfect for a sauce over traditional foods. And they say fermented pejibaye will knock your socks off.

green mangos
A.M. Costa Rica photo     
A quick snack of green mango

Time for a sour green fruit
that's loaded with vitamin C

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Among the more underrated offerings of the Costa Rican produce markets is the green mango. Most expats know about ripe mangos and have enjoyed the drippy, juicy fruit with its unique flavor. They may also have used it in blended drinks or as a flavor for ice cream or soda.

Less respected is the green mango. This can be found prepared in the little baggies offered by street vendors. Included in the bag with the strips of mango is a bit of lemon and salt. Nice vendors also will add special ingredients, like chili, upon request.

This is street finger food. The long mango strips are bitter and an acquired taste. And that's about all the average Tico sees of green mangos.

The inhabitants of India and some Asian countries have a 4,000 to 5,000 year head start on using the fruit. Chutney,  the condiment identified with the British Empire and India, has a mango base.

Green mangos can hold their own in any taste test, and the addition of sea salt, chili, chilero or black pepper can cater to the desires of the consumer.

A real treat is a green mango salad. There are an infinite number of recipes. The basic salad contains either grated or strips of mango. From there on in, the choices are many. One version uses baked coconut and various nuts, bean sprouts and basil.

Those who want to add fire to the sour treat can create a mango-jalapeño salad, heavy on lime or lemon and pepper.

The fruit is so accommodating that a chef can hardly go wrong. The salad can become a main course with the addition of chicken or shrimp.

The mango also contains all sorts of healthful compounds, including vitamin C and fiber.

The only downside is the large seed in the middle that sometimes can be a challenge. Freestone versions of the fruit exist, but they are foreign to Costa Rica.

Chinese bottles
A.M. Costa Rica/Arron O'Dell
There's no need to read the bottle. In fact, most of us cannot, despite loosely enforced Costa Rican laws to the contrary that call for labels in Spanish. It's just time for experimentation!

Take the Chinese liquor plunge
and drink that mystery elixir

By Arron O'Dell
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

China is a country known for the Great Wall, temples, big cities, big culture, a billion people and their seeming love to eat anything.  If it grows out of the ground, walks, crawls, slithers, swims, flies or does any combination, the people of China have found a way to kill it, cook it, eat it and enjoy it.  However, the liquor traditions of China seldom come up in conversation.

There are more Chinese than you can shake a stick at around the globe and not one beer that is popular around the world.  This is the sort of thing not to be taken lightly. There must be a good reason for it.   Most Chinese joints here don't even sell an Asian beer and, if they do, it's almost always Thai or Japanese.  You will never here a Chinese expat say something like "Yeah, this Pilsen  is okay but you should try this beer I use to drink back home." 

What the Chinese did bring with them was liquor, high octane, burn-on-the-way-down, glorious liquor.  You haven't seen the stuff at Hipermás, any of the big mercados or your local super, because it is not there.  You cannot find it in any of the places you frequent for your standard shopping needs. 

The only way to track down Chinese liquor is to search out the small shops around town with the Chinese characters on the front.  These shops are here. You can find them.  When you fall into one of these places you hit gold because of the strange and exotic smells.  A good shop will have two or three shelves of bottles in a variety of shapes sizes with red and gold labels and writing that means nothing unless you read Mandarin.
My friend and I have found the best way to pick the best one is by style.  The first bottle we took home was chosen this way and still remains a favorite.  It was a short and fat bottle shaped like an oversize pineapple hand grenade with a colorful label.  When my friend saw it, he said something like 'I've got to have that bottle. It looks cool!'   He was that excited about this new elixir we had found. 

With bottle in hand we quickly made our way to the closest place to home that sold beer and yanked several six packs off the shelf and darted home at a near run.  With two open cans and empty shot glasses in front of us we stared admiring the bottle for a moment.  Then with stupid giddy expressions on our faces we poured. 

After the straight shot, we felt compelled to try it every way we could come up with until there was no more. We sipped it, drank it on ice, with soda, chased it, used it as a chaser for beer.  This tasting was was done very scientifically. 

It was very similar to Jägermeister without the bite on the front, and for 2,000 colons it was a superb deal.  Somewhere around around the bottom of the bottle it occurred to us it might be nice to have a name to put to this wonderful concoction.   We studied every character that  The People's Republic of China felt necessary to put on the ornate paper label on that fine, cheap bottle, and all of it was in some form of Chinese.  

When we inquired of the proprietor of the local Chinese restaurant, he told us that it was  an “export-only” liquor from mainland China. How fortunate for us that they chose to export this fine elixir!

chile relleno
Chile relleno envuelto en huevo: Pepper stuffed with a mixture of rice and meat rolled up in an egg omelette.
scallon omlette
Torta de Huevo con cebollin:
scallion omelette.
Canelones de carne envueltos en huevo. Cannelloni stuffed with a mixture of rice and meat rolled up in an egg omellete
yucca balls
Enyucada de carne: This is a yucca ball stuffed with meat and then fried until crunchy.
Yes, there is good typical food
on the Costa Rican menu

By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

When visitors to Costa Rica turn up their nose at the concept of Tico food, its because they have not looked hard enough.

Those who come to San José can find a wide assortment of great typical food at a place like the Central Market or Mercado Central.

At one time this was where most food transactions took place. The building itself is an historic site. The structure is on the Avenida Central pedestrian mall not far west of the Banco de Costa Rica. Tourists and locals alike will find that gallitos, a typical Tico canape or snack, is available here at the several sodas or inside lunch counters.

Around the eating spots, daily commerce takes place. The smell of leather goods, flowers and all kinds of foods and plants fill the air.

Inside, the gallito you can get a chile relleno (a filled pepper), an almuerzito de repollo (cabbage), tortas de huevo con cebollin (a scallion omelette) a barbudos (string bean omelette), a canellone ticos rellenos de carne (pasta stuffed with meat) or an enyucada with beef as well as cheese. The last is meat or cheese wrapped in yucca and deep fried.

There also are empanadas, pastry stuffed with meat, chicken, beans, potatoes with meat and/or cheese, all good food anytime of the day.

The word soda has a unique Costa Rica usage for a luncheon spot or snack bar.  The stands are small with some inside tables surrounded by a counter with stools. As you eat, you can see the food being prepared. The Mercado Central is operated by the municipality, so proper food preparation can be expected.

One well-known place is the Soda San Bosco at the western part of the Mercado Central. It is run by Luis Garcia Campos and his family. They have had the location for at least 30 years. Even though the place is small, it is very popular with locals. Garcia said the reason for the popularity is the freshness of the food, the friendly and quick service and the prices. 

You can drink the juice of different kinds of fruits for 350 colons (62 U.S. cents),  a coffee for 400 colons (71 cents), a gallito of chile relleno, canelloni or barbudos just for 600 colons ($1.06), the gallo de salchichon (sausage) with salad and tortillas for 500 colons (89 cents) as well the similarly priced empanadas, enyucadas and torta de huevo.

Soda San bosco and Luis Garcia Campos
A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas  
Luis Garcia Campos at his Soda San Bosco

These spaces are reserved
for the country's
better restaurants

Food help and information

Take your gourmet cooking to the next level!
Your dishes will be the talk of the party. Learn how to plate like a pro, cook with wine, make gourmet sauces and more! Over 40 gourmet recipes and 300 meal suggestions with secret tips only a chef knows! More information HERE!

World's finest 5-star restaurant secret recipes
Discover the secret recipes from the world's finest restaurants and cook 5-star dinners at home for a fraction of the cost! Make your friends and family go all wild and gaga over your food at the next bash, party or gathering. HERE!

Top ten candy recipes. 
Learn how to cook some of the best tasting candy recipes in less than an hour. Any recipe can be fixed in less than an hour with no more than eight ingredients! All of these candy recipes have been perfected to a point where even people who dislike major ingredients in some candies can't get enough of our unique taste and flavors! HERE!

Make your own GREAT beer!
Did you know that it REALLY is pretty easy to make a great tasting home brewed beer in your own kitchen?  You might find it hard to believe after the bad experiences you might have had or heard about from your friends. Learn how to brew your own beer with the video training series. Training includes videos on extract brewing, all grain brewing, original home brewing recipes, Brew your own beer today for a lot less than what C ervercería Costa Rica charges for Imperial Visit!

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The plantain is a fruit that has triple flexibility in kitchen
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The culinary landscape of pre-conquest America lacked some of the foods taken for granted today.

There was no sugar. That was imported by Columbus on his second voyage. The delicious mango did not grow here. And the banana did not come to the Americas until the 16th century. Even the ubiquitous rice plant is a colonial import.

Despite being imported, these plants flourished here. And no Costa Rican meal is complete without rice. The plantain, called plátano, also makes up a flexible part of the diet.

The flexibility is in the use of green plantains as a starchy potato or rice substitute and the use of the mature fruit in ways to take advantage of its sweetness.

The plantain is larger than the typical table banana. Its uses differ depending on the maturity. The green plátano can be cooked like a potato, grated into flour or fried to make chips. The patacone, a double-fried disc of plantain traditionally is decorated with refried beans, mayonnaise and avocado dip.

Compared to the rest of the world, Costa Rica is fairly conservative in using the plátano. Asian cooks are far more creative.

For most, the mature, almost black-skinned plátano comes fried as one of the regulars in the luncheon casado. They are called maduros and give off their sweetness when fried in hot oil.

Nutritional content varies slightly depending on the maturity of the plantain. A green plantain, about 220 grams or about half a pound, is about 360 calories with no calories from fat. A ripe fruit is slightly less, about 340 calories. The 2 gram sugar content of the green fruit increases to about 10 grams in the mature plantain. Both are reported to be a good source of potassium, dietary fiber, vitamin A and vitamin C.

The non-fat label is a bit misleading because many of the great plantain recipes call for deep frying.

A good source of recipes is the Turbana cooperative Web site. The company features dishes for all three plátano stages.
Typical display of green plátanos
Among these are plantain pancakes, mashed green plantains, fried plantains and several desserts.

Those who love patacones should know that some gourmet stores sell a press to make uniform discs. Others sell a product to fabricate a small plátano shell into which condiments can be spooned.

At home, the once-fried quarters of plantain can be pressed with the bottom of a bottle or some other hard object. They need to be reduced to about a quarter inch before deep frying again.

Chemical seen leaching from polycarbonate bottles to humans
By the Harvard School of Public Health news service

Researchers have found that persons who drink from polycarbonate bottles have a higher level of chemical bisphenol A , which is used in producing the containers.

Exposure to bisphenol A, used in the manufacture of polycarbonate and other plastics, has been shown to interfere with reproductive development in animals and has been linked with cardiovascular disease and diabetes in humans.

The researchers were led by Jenny Carwile, a doctoral student in the department of epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health, and Karin B. Michels, an associate professor of epidemiology.

Researchers recruited Harvard College students for the study in April 2008. The 77 participants began the study with a seven-day washout phase in which they drank all cold beverages from stainless steel bottles as a control.

Participants provided urine samples during the washout period. They were then given two polycarbonate bottles and asked to drink all cold beverages from the bottles during the next week. Urine samples were also provided during that time.

The results showed that the participants' urinary bisphenol A concentrations increased 69 percent after drinking from the
polycarbonate bottles. The study authors noted that concentrations in the college population were similar to those reported for the U.S. general population.  Previous studies had found that bisphenol A could leach from polycarbonate bottles into their contents. This study is the first to show a corresponding increase in urinary concentrations in humans.

One of the study's strengths, the authors note, is that the students drank from the bottles in a normal setting. Additionally, the students did not wash their bottles in dishwashers nor put hot liquids in them. Heating has been shown to increase the leaching of Bisphenol A from polycarbonate.

Canada banned the use of bisphenol A in polycarbonate baby bottles in 2008 and some polycarbonate bottle manufacturers have voluntarily eliminated the chemical from their products. With increasing evidence of the potential harmful effects of Bisphenol A in humans, the authors believe further research is needed on the effect of Bisphenol A on infants and on reproductive disorders and on breast cancer in adults.

In addition to polycarbonate bottles, which are refillable and a popular container among students, campers and others and are also used as baby bottles, bisphenol A is also found in dentistry composites and sealants and in the lining of aluminum food and beverage cans. In bottles, polycarbonate can be identified by the recycling number 7.

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