Firstly, let me say something positive about our local grocery stores. We live in a jungle town where the main road – the I-95 and Abercorn Street of Savannah combined into one – is made of dirt and rock and occasionally potholes and ditches. There are as many ATVs, motorcycles and horses on the road as there are cars. The fact that we have more than one grocery store is miraculous, and I think they do a good job of trying to stock the shelves with the things ticos need and a few of the luxuries expats want, like the bag of veggie sticks I bought without looking at the price first ($9 – won’t do that again).
But when it comes to meat and fresh produce, sometimes the grocery stores are … lacking. Even when I lived with a Publix, Fresh Market and a Whole Foods down the street in Savannah, I never enjoyed meal planning or making my grocery list.
Now, I dread it. Here, I don’t have my cabinet full of spices and oils and dry rubs. We have a grill and a stove top, but no oven, so forget baking. Many of my go-to recipes just aren’t going to work.
So every few days I sit with a blank piece of paper and a pen, and think, “What do we want to eat this week?” And a voice in my head says, “Zaxby’s.” And then I pour a margarita and start again.
But a place like Nosara is also a place with secrets. There are nuggets of wisdom you’ll never ever find on trip advisor or in a guide book – you only find them by asking those who’ve come before you.
I was chatting with a new acquaintance several weeks ago when I lamented the meat selection at the grocery store. “Oh, I should get you Tony’s email,” she said.
Tony, as it turns out, is an organic meat farmer who makes home deliveries. He doesn’t advertise – his business is all by word of mouth.
So I sent Tony an email and asked to be added to his customer database. I quickly received a reply with a product list, and had a nice chuckle at some of the offerings, such as:
- chicken winks
- chicken winks drumsticks
- chicken lever
We steered clear of the winks and rips, but did order a few of his other items.
On delivery day, our house phone rang and a cheerful voice on the other end said, “Hello! This is Tony Mr. Meat!”
In retrospect, maybe he said, “Tony with your meat,” but he’ll forever and always in our hearts be “Tony Mr. Meat.”
I gave him directions to our home, and soon heard his van rumbling up the driveway. He began assembling our order from the various chest freezers and large coolers in the back.
Tony Mr. Meat is a Hungarian who grew up in Germany before relocating to Costa Rica many years ago. He raises tilapia and free range chicken, and his neighbor has pigs. The beef comes from a farm in the center of the country where the cows pasture on grass.
He was delightful, and when we mentioned how much we liked tilapia, he brought out some frozen tilapia burger patties that we’d not ordered. “You will like these – I make them myself!” he said, “Take them.”
I had exact change for our order, which included bills and coins, but he wouldn’t accept the coins. “You have a child?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said. “A daughter.”
He pressed the coins back into my hand. “For her piggy bank!” he said.
We love Tony Mr. Meat.
I’d also begun to catch snippets of conversations among other school parents about a “food truck.” Wisdom about food is precious around here, so I didn’t feel badly for butting into their conversation.
“What food truck?” I asked.
I learned that a farmer would be bringing a small semi-truck full of fresh produce to the school parking lot on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
It’s an interesting way to shop. You climb up on top of an overturned plastic crate and then hoist yourself into the back of the truck. There are crates and crates of veggies and fruits, with no price tags of course. But you grab what you want, jump off the truck and then the farmer weighs it all and gives you the tally.
And I’m pleased to report (for once) that his prices are reasonable. Well, mostly. There was one day I saw a single bunch of asparagus. We love asparagus, and I never see it around here. Having grown wiser about NOT making price assumptions, I decided to ask him what it cost before adding it to my bag. “Eight dollars,” he said. I sadly put the asparagus back in favor of a cucumber that probably cost me 80 cents.
And so it goes. A couple of times a week I go to Super Nosara for the staple foods. Then on several school mornings I hop into the food truck in the school parking lot for our fruits and veggies. And then on Thursdays, we rely on Tony Mr. Meat to bring us the protein we need. It’s a bit of a hunter/gatherer system, and while not as simple as a trip to Whole Foods (and even more expensive, somehow), it’s working for us.
Meanwhile, I’m trying some new recipes, always looking for options that are simple, require very few ingredients, and don’t involve an oven. I’m going to start a recipes tab here and share some of them. Even if you do live down the street from a Publix (you lucky dog), you may enjoy these on a weeknight when you don’t feel like getting all fancy in the kitchen. And I’ll be glad to have them for reference when I’m staring at that blank piece of paper trying to make a grocery list.
I’ll start with a super easy – but VERY important one – that I tried this morning for the first time. Click here for a recipe for homemade coffee creamer.
If you have any super simple recipes you think we should try, please pass them along in the comments!