As I often do, I created a recipe with ingredients I had on hand. In this case it became a baked stuffed pepper recipe using lentils instead of rice. The nutritional difference between rice and lentils is negligible. I simply like the taste of lentils and figured it was a good alternative. The prosciutto and feta cheese adds all the salt this dish requires.
Ingredients for 2 to 3 servings:
3 bell peppers – note: I prefer to mix bell pepper colors: red, yellow, green, and orange
½ cup lentils
1 ½ – 2 cups water
1/3rd of a sweet onion
2 cloves garlic
2 celery stalks with leaves from the center of the bunch
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
3 slices prosciutto
1/3rd cup crumbled feta cheese
6 leaves fresh basil
3 sundried tomatoes
1 cup chicken or vegetable stock
Bring 1 & ½ cups (12 ounces) water to a boil. Add the lentils and reduce heat. Cover when the lentils are gently simmering. Simmer for 30 to 40 minutes checking half way through to add additional boiling water if necessary. The lentils should be tender and all water evaporated.
While lentils are simmering, slice the tops of the peppers off and set aside. Place the peppers into an oven proof baking dish that will provide a snug fit for the peppers.
Dice the onion, celery and garlic.
Heat the olive oil in a medium sauté pan and gently cook the onion, celery and garlic until soft but not browned. Turn the heat off.
Dice the prosciutto, basil leaves and sundried tomatoes.
Preheat the oven to 400° F.
In a small sauce pan heat the chicken or vegetable stock just to the boiling point.
When the lentils are tender combine with the onion, celery and garlic. Add the prosciutto, basil leaves, feta cheese and sundried tomatoes. Gently combine – do not mash the lentils.
Spoon into the peppers and replace the tops. Pour the stock into the baking dish around, not over, the peppers.
Place the dish into the preheated oven and bake for 45 minutes until the peppers are soft.
A crisp dry white wine goes well with this dish. Try an Assyrtiko from the Greek island of Santorini.
Much is written in the media today concerning the inability to disconnect while on vacation – professionals glued to email and cell phones around the pool. Yet that’s hardly unique to the 21st century. In 1885 when Thomas Edison purchased 14 acres along the Caloosahatchee River as a winter retreat in the remote southwestern Florida farming hamlet of Fort Myers he had no intention of turning his mind off.
Although Thomas (1847-1931) Mina (1865-1947) and their children spent most winters at their Seminole Lodge estate, his office provides ample evidence he was still connected by correspondence to his invention laboratory at Menlo Park, NJ. Along with good friends Harvey Firestone and Henry Ford the Edison Botanical Research Corporation was established and a laboratory constructed on the estate in the 1920s. The goal was to make America independent of foreign rubber.
Edison dubbed Seminole Lodge his jungle. He and Mina surrounded their home with lush gardens. But first, they had to construct the houses.
The railroad was not extended to Fort Myers until 1904, which meant convenient travel was by ship. A 1,500 foot pier was built as a landing for family, guests and the materials necessary for Seminole Lodge. Prefab houses were also not new to the 21st century. The lumber for the two identical mirror-image houses that are Seminole Lodge was fabricated in Maine, shipped to Fort Myers and assembled on site.
The adjacent second house was originally the winter home of business partner Ezra Gulliland, but was bought back by Edison after a serious split with Gulliland. The spacious, airy wood structures were connected with a pergola and the second house turned into combination guest quarters, dining room and kitchen for Seminole Lodge. Both houses were electrified, of course, with power from both generators and batteries – all the product of Edison’s fertile mind.
Children of America’s great industrial age, Thomas and Mina were friends with other magnates of the day, especially Henry Ford. A frequent guest of the Edisons at Seminole Lodge, Ford purchased the beautiful yet modest Craftsman house in 1916 adjacent to Seminole Lodge. Although the Fords only used the home for two weeks each winter to celebrate Edison’s birthday, their friendship and business partnerships were life-long.
After Thomas Edison’s death at age 84 in 1931 Mina continued to winter at Seminole Lodge. Mina was Edison’s second wife having been widowed in the early 1880s when only in his 30s. The daughter of an inventor, university educated and an employee at the Menlo Park lab, Mina was as much an intellectual equal to her husband as a wife.
Mina was active managing their households, the botanical gardens and the Edison business ventures. Edison was said to greatly appreciate Mina’s intellect and input in discussing his many theories for everything from the phonograph, electric batteries to motion picture cameras. In 1947 Mina deeded the estate to the City of Fort Myers on condition that it be preserved as a public memorial to her husband’s genius.
Henry Ford sold his house in 1947, and it remained a private home until the city purchased it in 1988. The Edison & Ford Winter Estates is operated and maintained as a non-profit offering a plethora of tours and activities including an extensive museum dedicated to the genius of these two men. A visit to Edison’s jungle is to step back to an age where great ideas were conjured in the mind rather than by an electronic device – although Thomas probably would have invented the computer if he’d had time.
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The fresh butter spread easily onto whole grain bread. Rich in chia seeds, the tender yet appropriately dense bread was yet another tasty creation of Tina, Hotel Cuna del Angel’s pastry chef. If gluten intolerant, everything served at Cuna del Angel is safe to eat and to all other guests it’s simply delicious.
A quick read of the classic European inspired menu at the La Palapa restaurant gives guests not a clue their dining health is being guarded. An array of breads vies with such classics as spinach tagliatelle with artichokes, beef tenderloin accented by porcini mushrooms, and a presentation of greens in the Jungle Salad that’s an evocation of the surrounding forest. Deeper reading reveals the pastas are made from cassava, lentil and garbanzo bean flours and many of the salad’s greens are sustainably harvested.
German by birth, Tom Nagel’s passion for natural healthy eating developed over time and was accelerated by organic farm ventures in Spain. Drawn over a decade ago to the climate, business potential and progressive farming methods practiced in Costa Rica, Tom’s vision for Cuna del Angel’s La Palapa dining room was to be a discrete haven of healthy eating. Second hand experience with celiac disease made the 100% gluten-free decision easy.
The Small Distinctive Hotels of Costa Rica, of which Cuna del Angel’s a member, take pride in living sustainable tourism. Hotel Cuna del Ángel has the highest recognition – five leaves – by the Costa Rica Tourism Board through its Certificate for Sustainable Tourism program. To Tom, caring for the cradle (cuna) of the angels is a reciprocal arrangement with the guardians of human life.
Demonstrating this commitment to local, organic and sustainable foods and sources is as close as Tom Nagel’s own farm. Many of Cuna del Angel’s vegetables, greens, herbs, legumes – and eggs – are grown using hydroponics or permaculture agricultural methods. The farm produces its own natural fertilizer utilizing a bio digester with its methane gas byproduct channeled to other uses. A natural wood vinegar herbicide is made through a distillation process that condenses a smoldering fire of wood and banana leaves.
Honey for Cuna del Angel’s kitchen is harvested from the farm’s hives but only from the upper layers so as to minimize disturbance to the colony. Four hundred cocoa trees discovered on the farm produce the dense, smooth dark Tom’s Chocolate Bar, but they’re not for sale. Tom donates the bars for charity fundraisers and uses them as a delicious business card.
All of these techniques take time, but to Tom the alternatives are not debatable. Even the hotel’s design is an expression of a vision that it is possible to find balance in life and space. La Palapa dining room is homage to the traditional indigenous culture’s sense of orienting life according to energy points – the web site has a complete explanation. The soft ambient lighting in the open walled dining room that overlooks the jungle and Pacific Ocean is certainly conducive to calmly enjoying fine cuisine.
Meals usually start with bread and a gluten-free menu easily complies. Cultures worldwide have been making bread products from non-gluten flours for millenniums. Chef Tina at Cuna del Angel uses corn, rice and yucca flour blends. All baked items, ice creams and other desserts are made in house. Gluten-free hors d’oeuvre bread with a chewy cracker texture was served with a seasoned butter of capers and olives. Whole grain bread speckled with chia seeds was indistinguishable from its wheat flour compatriots. It was simply an excellent slice of bread.
The aforementioned Jungle Salad featured kutuk leaf, Jamaica leaf, organic spinach and watercress with oil and balsamic. The variations in texture and color are as interesting as their source. All grow as bushes so harvesting is by trimming as the plant continues to produce.
Soups included an earthy cream of porcini and truffle that tasted like the forest after a summer rain. Bright reddish orange cream of pajibaye is a true Central American treat. The fruit of the Peach Palm, cooked pajibaye has a dense butternut squash texture and color. Its flavor has notes of pumpkin with a touch of lemon juice. Classic entrees of baked fillet of local snook was bathed in a bright green basil sauce, while the flavor of pork tenderloin – only prepared well done – was sparked by tangy tamarind sauce.
The imaginative dessert creations are impressive especially given that they are prepared as a component to a balanced meal and not just an extravagant indulgence – but don’t remind your endorphins. Nothing is more iconic of formal dining than French table service and Roberto Bonilla Campos did appropriate justice with flourishes to table side flambé mangoes in brown sugar butter sauce with Grand Marnier and Courvoisier. Gluten-free crepes are available, but the rich mango was terrific with house made vanilla bean ice cream.
Fortunately it was possible to taste the desserts over several meals, so the chocolate, pistachio, passion fruit and honey ice creams are as luscious as the vanilla. Tart Tartin had as flakey and buttery a crust as any Parisian patisserie, and passion fruit pie had a firm but creamy chiffon-like texture with a zing of citrus to compliment its natural perfume.
Hotel Cuna del Angel has sixteen spacious rooms with balconies facing the ocean in the main building and seven in the Jungle Villa. The Jungle Villa has a tree house vibe as the balconied rooms are built into the forest. Wellness at the hotel extends beyond gluten-free foods to the attractive spa and the extensive list of outdoor activities in the southern Pacific coast of Costa Rica.
Located in the hills above a quiet and secluded stretch south of Playa Dominical, the hotel is ideally situated for half and full day excursions for a plethora of activities including Corcovado National Park, Manuel Antonio National Park, forest hiking and canopy tours, sport fishing, snorkeling, scuba diving, horseback riding, whale and dolphin watching as well as ten nearby beaches. The front desk will help with any arrangements. Or relaxing at the hotel’s infinity pool surrounded by the jungle with the chirping of birds might be the best prescription for wellness. Active or passive, a guest will be cradled at Hotel Cuna del Angel.
When you go: Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO) is served by many airlines worldwide and within an easy 20 minute drive of downtown San Jose. Getting around: Costa Rica has an extensive inter city bus system and many tourist van options. The easiest transportation is renting a car. Costa Rica’s road system is generally in good condition.
Pejibaye (pronounced pay-hee-by-yay) is the fruit of the Peach Palm tree. It’s indigenous to Central and tropical South America and for centuries has been a staple before and after European invasions in the 16th century. About the size of a plum, the bright reddish orange fruit is packed with vitamins, minerals and carbohydrates and remains wildly popular, especially in Costa Rica.
The Peach Palm tree (bactris gasipaes) not only produces large clusters of fruit for 50 to 75 years but also is a major source for heart of palm that’s favored worldwide. From street vendors to top chefs Costa Ricans adore pejibaye. The thick-skinned raw fruit must be simmered in salted water from one to three hours before eating – it’s difficult to over cook the dense butternut squash like textured fruit.
Costa Ricans enjoy cooked pejibaye as a snack sliced and dipped in mayonnaise and sometimes coated in corn meal and fried. Chef Diego Seitour at Peace Lodge adds thin slices to his incomparable Ceviche Tucurrique of sea bass. Chef Francis Canal Bardot of San Jose’s premiere hotel and restaurant Grano de Oro, features the fruit in its most popular incarnation as cream of pejibaye soup.
The dense texture of pejibaye ideally lends itself to soup. Yet as is common with a national dish, there is no one authentic recipe. The simplest are purees of cooked fruit with onions, water, a little milk and perhaps some garlic and cilantro. Other recipes include chicken or vegetable stock, cream and any number of additions such as celery, bell peppers, butter, carrots, rosemary, thyme and bay leaves.
What I’ve created is in keeping with my culinary belief that a recipe should enhance and not mask the natural flavor of the prime ingredient. I also like the silky mouth feel of adding heavy cream and the depth of flavor from a good chicken stock.
In North America it’s nearly impossible to find fresh pejibaye, even in Latino markets – the raw fruit is little known and perishable. In Florida, where I live, it is available in Latino markets preserved in jars ready to eat – after peeling the skin, splitting the fruit and removing the seed.
Cream of Pejibaye Soup – 4 servings
4 cups of well flavored chicken stock
1 cup of heavy cream
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium sweet onion, diced
½ cup diced celery
3 cloves of garlic, diced
¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
1 roasted red pepper plus a couple tablespoons cream
¼ cup minced fresh cilantro
If you happen to have raw pejibayes, cover with cold water and add ½ teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for at least one hour. Cool enough to handle and peel off the skin with a small sharp knife. Cut the fruit off the seed – the fruit will be dry and easy to separate from its seed. If you’re using ready to eat pejibayes in a jar, drain, rinse in cold water, peel and slice.
Preheat the oven to 400° and place the whole red pepper in a small baking dish. Roast the pepper for 30 to 40 minutes, turning every 10 minutes, until soft and the skin is slightly brown. Remove the pepper to a small bowl, cover and let cool. When cool enough to handle slip off the skin, remove the seeds, slice in strips and set the roasted pepper aside.
Melt the butter in a heavy four quart saucepan.
Add the diced onion and celery and cook over medium low heat until the onion is soft, transparent but not browned. Add the garlic and cook for two additional minutes.
Add the sliced pejibayes and chicken stock. Raise the heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes.
While the soup is simmering, heat the heavy cream in a small saucepan over low heat just until small bubbles appear in a ring around the pan. Add the cream and white pepper to the soup and turn off the heat.
Puree the soup with an immersion blender or transfer in batches to a blender and liquefy – I prefer using an immersion blender directly in the pot.
Puree the roasted red pepper in a blender or with an immersion blender adding just enough cream to make a smooth sauce.
Ladle the soup into bowls, garnish with a flourish of red pepper puree and a sprinkle of cilantro.
There are conflicting Internet statistics on the caloric content of pejibaye. The calorie counts on sites range from an outrageous 1,100 calories per fruit to a low of 56. On the jar of prepared fruit I’m using the nutritional label indicates 190 calories for three pejibaye – 65 per fruit. Considering the fruit is not sweet, I find it difficult to believe any higher figure. Regardless, it’s an easy, nutritious and flavorful national icon of beautiful Costa Rica – ps: and farm animals love pejibaye.
Costa Rica is a landmass equal to 0.03% of the Earth, about 20,000 square miles – the size of Vermont – but accounts for 5%-6% of the globe’s biodiversity. Yet within the Monteverde Biological Reserve, a mere 55 square miles, exists half of that diversity. Among its residents are 700 bee species, 10% of the world’s butterflies – 24,000 species – 300 species of mammals, 12,000 plants including 500 orchids, 360,000 insects, 75,000 mushrooms, 1,100 species of ferns and 915 species of birds, including 91 from North America that live in the reserve only during mating season.
“It’s never happened before,” says Giuliano Salazar Gigli. That was a surprise statement. Giuliano is one of the Monteverde Biological Reserve top naturalist guides. His life has been committed to the preservation of over 35% of Costa Rica’s biosphere. “We’re using the water in a bad way. If we can collect it in the rainy season we can make it through the dry months.”
I’m eating breakfast at La Casona, the lodge in the Monteverde Biological Reserve, gazing out at greenery so lush and thick I can barely see six feet into the Cloud Forest. Yet as Giuliano explains the amount of annual rainfall, 138 inches, remains the same. The change is in its pattern.
There are more dry days in the Cloud Forest than in the past – 96 in 2015. In the town of Monteverde, the eco-tourism center for this region of the Cloud Forest, there are water restrictions from noon to 3:00 p.m. Fortunately, Giuliano assures, that doesn’t affect hotels or restaurants since most have constructed their own water collecting systems.
Yet a cloud forest thrives on mist. In a rain forest the precipitation is heavier in that it tends to occur in steady downpours, but a cloud forest is dependent on heavy mist – like a fog – to be captured by the thousands of ferns and air plants that make up the canopy. The precipitation is nature’s drip irrigation system slowly watering plants. That slow drip captures seeds, eventually making their way to the forest floor for germination.
The structure of the Cloud Forest is a prime example of the symbiotic relationships among nature that preserve our Earth. The density of vegetation growing on top of each other is essential. On one soaring tree alone, the weight of all the plants living on that tree exceeded 200 tons and included 150 species of plants among them 70 species of orchards.
Giuliano stressed it’s a misconception to assume these plants smother the tree – with the exception of the strangler fig which eventually encases its host yet provides an architecture to support the diversity. Air plants are not parasites. They do not rob the host of nutrients; they simply use them as a structure. There’s only one parasitic plant in all the cloud forests – mistletoe.
Costa Rica preserves 35% of its landmass as either national parks or private reserves, more than any other nation on Earth. This natural beauty attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors annually. Yet it has become the world’s laboratory for studying the effects of global climate change. Currently Dr. J. Alan Pounds, resident biologist at the Monteverde Biological Reserve, and the University of Georgia are conducting advanced computer studies on climate change within the Cloud Forests that will result in significant data.
“The winds are changing,” Giuliano explains. “It’s becoming windier – they clean the sky and dry it out. Deforestation in the coastal lowlands has altered wind patterns causing (higher velocity) winds that push clouds up and away from the mountain forest treetops.” This has diminished the gentle clouds that mist the Cloud Forest and affected the behavior of its wildlife.
Giuliano says there are possibly four jaguars living in the reserve – an extremely endangered and ultra shy species of cat. Yet in the past year the cats have killed 15 goats at night on farms – proof caught on film. This is unusual and indicates that the natural food supply in their habitat and the habitat’s size are diminishing, forcing the jaguars out of their usual secluded environment and closer to the source of people food.
That may be an extreme example but a more subtle effect can be found on the germination of the Cloud Forest avocado. Figs and avocados are essential food sources for forest mammals and birds. The avocado especially is dependent on the magnificent quetzal.
The feathers of the quetzal were prized by the ruling class of ancient Central American civilizations. Their plumes were harvested only from feathers that had naturally dropped onto the forest floor. Unfortunately European settlers after the 16th century conquest were not so patient, hunting the quetzal nearly into extinction while diminishing their natural environment.
It’s estimated there are only 300 quetzals in Costa Rica out of 900 total in Central America with perhaps 20 living in the Monteverde Biological Reserve. The quetzal enjoys avocados, but more important to the ecosystem, they enjoy their small seeds. For the avocado seed to germinate it must be swallowed by the quetzal and deposited through their digestive system on the ground – nature’s symbiotic relationship.
The over 90,000 annual visitors to the Monteverde Biological Reserve walk pristine trails on the 3% of the reserve open to the public. They experience a prime example of what can go right in the world when concerned citizenry, a committed government and the resources of the international scientific community work in harmony.
For me listening to Giuliano identify dozens of unseen birds by their sounds, getting a glimpse of the rare quetzal, explaining the cooperative layers of vegetation down to beautiful blankets of white mushrooms digesting fallen fauna that revert back into life giving soil was the experience of what the world can be in the absence of human conflict with nature.
When you go: The town of Monteverde attracts over 250,000 annual visitors and is a center for ecological and adventure tourism. Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO) is served by many airlines worldwide and is within an easy 20 minute drive of downtown San Jose and 3 hours to Monteverde.
Getting around: Costa Rica has an extensive inter city bus system and many tourist van options. The easiest transportation is renting a car. Costa Rica’s road system is generally in good condition.
Where to stay: There are of number of accommodations from luxury hotels to hostels in Monteverde. I highly recommend:
Although fashion design is not my element, it is one of my wife’s great passions. Yet a recent visit to the Museum at FIT – the Fashion Institute of Technology – in New York City’s historic Chelsea neighborhood unexpectedly connected with my interest in history.
The Fashion Institute of Technology is America’s premiere college for the business and art of fashion design. Its museum’s current exhibit, Uniformity, is an entertaining exploration that will change the way you perceive the entire notion of uniforms. The 200 year retrospective from military to sports uniforms goes beyond the obvious, detailing their influence on everyday fashion from beach to formal wear.
In John Galliano’s camouflage evening gown for Dior in 2001 (above, left) the influence is obvious. Yet I never gave it much thought that this trend is at least two centuries old. What was more surprising to me is that uniforms, clothing meant to make the wearer impersonal, for so long influenced fashion designed to be individualistic.
As early as the 1840s, a portrait of Queen Victoria’s four year old son, Prince Edward Albert, in a naval uniform made a fashion statement for affluent children’s clothing. By the 1890s, summer fashion for women (above left) had a decided naval bent and the trend has never lost favor (above right)
Designer Chitose Abe in her 2015 collection for her Sacai label combines British and French naval elements in her cotton and silk ensemble.
Yet by the 1940s military uniforms themselves combined functionality and fashion.
The World War II uniform designed for the Navy’s new W.A.V.E.S. division was hailed as a fashion success – functional yet feminine. It was also the first military uniform designed by a major American couturier, the House of Mainbocher founded by Main Rousseau Bocher in 1929. But the Army’s new W.A.C. division uniform was the work of a committee. It was not only dubbed “olive drab,” but blamed for poor W.A.C. recruitment numbers compared to the Navy’s W.A.V.E.S. Even in war fashion made a statement!
Perhaps no genre of uniforms has had a greater fashion influence than sports. From the baseball cap to brand logos, America’s national sport has convinced well dressed people that being a walking advertisement for your favorite team and brands is desirable to one’s identity.
Of course football followed suit. According to FIT, Geoffrey Beene “shocked the fashion elite” in 1967 with his sequined even gown that’s simply an elongated 1930s football jersey.
FIT’s fine Uniformity exhibit doesn’t ignore the influence on fashion of maid, butler, waiter and waitress clothing. In 2015 Karl Lagerfeld designed this evening dress for the House of Chanel using the typical uniform of waiters in Parisian brasseries.
The museum of the Fashion Institute of Technology, part of the State University of New York, is open Tuesday through Saturday. Admission is free. What was even more surprising was the knowledge and enthusiasm of the staff, especially the guards. They were eager to engage in conversation and added to the pleasure of the exhibit.
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The culinary arts intersect with the performing arts in New York City.
Who would except to find farmers markets in Manhattan? Yet they are becoming increasingly popular. The Tucker Square Thursday Greenmarket offers locally grown produce directly across for the iconic Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.
“We’ve grown smaller,” Pedro Belmar said quietly as we sampled the crisp organic kale with Parmesan tapas. That would not ordinarily be a hotel’s best business plan, but as a Small Distinctive Hotel of Costa Rica, the Hotel Belmar strives to reduce its carbon footprint while at the same time expanding its hospitality. That sentiment has greater resonance coming from a second generation heir to a hotel that has his name on everything.
A pleasant reminder of Pedro Belmar’s vision for the new look of success is as close as the hotel’s La Chispa cocktail. It’s firmly rooted in the forest and the 21st century cocktail revolution.
cedar pine needle smoke
premium Sloane’s Gin
black tea syrup
Crushed ice is swirled in a cocktail glass. Local dry cedar pine needles on a flameproof dish are lit with a torch. Discard the ice and invert the glass over the flame which should extinguish immediately and rest it on the needles capturing the smoke. The gin, syrup and lime are stirred in crushed ice. Upright the glass and strain the cocktail into the captured smoke.
Sipping a smoky cedar scented La Chispa ensconced in the all-cedar Hotel Belmar overlooking the cloud forest tumbling down to the Gulf of Nicoya is an expression of “growing smaller.” The black tea syrup was made from ingredients in the Hotel Belmar’s organic garden as well as fresh limes. The cedar pine needles are on site. The gin may be imported, but the new craft cocktail menu anchors the Hotel Belmar’s commitment to sustainable growth and 21st century eco-luxe travel.
When his parents, Pedro and Vera Belmar, opened their home as a bed and breakfast in 1985 in the heart of the country’s fabled Cloud Forest, Monteverde was a remote hamlet among lush subsistence farms. Located 85 miles northwest from the capital at San Jose, backpackers and naturalists exploring the cloud forests were the area’s first tourists. Isolation and climate conditions favorable for a plethora of unique indigenous flora and fauna helped Monteverde develop a mystic for natural wellness.
With nary a paved road to what is recognized today as a biological treasure, travelers to the cloud forest grew from just backpackers to seekers of tranquility with comfort. The 13 room all-cedar Hotel Belmar main building is Pedro and Vera’s homage to a love of alpine architecture. The extensive amount of cedar wood made opening a wood shop on site a logical decision. Handling all the work for hotel maintenance, it made sense for the wood shop to design and craft designated tableware for both the dining room and bar such as the sectional plate for the craft beer and tapas tasting.
Under the second generation the past five years, Pedro, Jr, and his sister have renovated the hotel and transformed the original home into the sleek wood and glass nine room Chalet. The Chalet is the center of the hotel’s wellness program, spa services and organic juice and tea bar. The juices are made from fruits and vegetables grown on site.
On eight cultivated acres at the nearby Belmar family farm and the compact but expanding hotel organic garden, chickens for eggs, coffee, dairy, sugar cane, bananas, avocados, curly endive, lettuces, kale, watercress as well as sunflowers, nasturtiums, fennel, amaranth seeds and dozens more items supply the hotel’s Celajes Restaurant.
A smoke house made from recycled materials smokes cheese, bacon and churresso sausage with the wood shop supplying the cedar chips. Plans are to grow mushrooms using the farm’s coffee hulls and natural compost.
Methane gas is collected for kitchen use through the hotel’s biological water filtration system. The system uses no energy yet produces methane, which is stored in a tank for the kitchen. Clean water is returned to the mountain stream in exchange for energy.
“My parents had the ideas,” says soft spoken Pedro taking little credit for the Hotel Belmar’s successful transition into a 21st century Small Distinctive Hotels retreat that consistently achieves Costa Rica’s highest awards for sustainable tourism. Knowing that the caché of Monteverde and the Cloud Forest is the region’s draw, Pedro wants to position the Celajes Restaurant and bar as the hotel’s unique attraction. It starts with the view: located on the main lobby floor, the spacious Celajes Restaurant and bar commands a sweeping vista of the forest, mountains and Gulf of Nicoya far below.
The bar reaches deep into the hotel’s organic garden for unique flavors to combine with premium sprits. Bitters and syrups are house made from reduced stout, coffee, eucuplytos and garden plants such as palo santo, a lemony scented herb that has been burned in South America to cleanse spaces of contrarian spirits – like sage. Room mini bar options include excellent house bottled Hotel Belmar cocktails.
Roberto Saenz is the Hotel Belmar’s brew master. The compact brewery just down the hill from the main hotel building was created using recycled equipment. All bottling is done on site. An inventive beer and food tasting is offered to guests at the bar or after the brewery tour.
The Aura Pale Ale was light with a refreshing hint of citrus and paired well with veggie ceviche: chiote, green bananas, cilantro and lime were fresh and tangy on a small tortilla. The dark, earthy hops of Dos Maros IPA melded with the rich meat of house smoked churesso. A creamy Stout had a great vanilla nose and a lingering molasses flavor. Coffee and chocolate notes in the stout blended well with smoky and lightly candied house made bacon. The small batch brews change often so pairing combinations will vary – that’s fun.
The freshness of both the ingredients and artistry of Celajes Restaurant does not disappoint. Breakfast can include a coconut milk and yogurt with chia seeds, fruit, tarragon and basil accompanied by house made granola. A lunch of beef carpaccio was a visually stunning platter of ultra thin slices of raw beef napped with a caper vinaigrette.
At dinner house baked bread is served with chimichuri sauce harkening back to Pedro, Sr, Chilean roots. Roasted beets, micro greens, grilled carrots, fennel flowers, basil, sunflower seeds with a yogurt dijon vinaigrette made a colorful salad. Beef tenderloin was seasoned with soy sauce, lemon juice, cilantro and fennel flowers. Wild sea bass was gently poached in butter. The perfume of a light dessert of verbana water, lavender flowers, tarragon, tropical fruit and guanabanas sorbet linked the dinner to the scents of a Cloud Forest evening.
The ethos of Hotel Belmar and of all Small Distinctive Hotels of Costa Rica is to succeed by taking less from the Earth. What is taken must be sustainable and is often delicious. Pedro Belmar and his diverse staff enhance the guest experience by living the true meaning of less is more.
When you go: Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO) is served by many airlines worldwide and is within an easy 20 minute drive of downtown San Jose and 3 hours to Monteverde. Getting around: Costa Rica has an extensive inter city bus system and many tourist van options. The easiest transportation is renting a car. Costa Rica’s road system is generally in good condition.