Let’s Explore: Cooking Class

written by Hannah Chinn, La Mariposa Intern

On Monday afternoon, we have cooking class!

We pile into the Mariposa van and drive to a spot on the outskirts of San Juan, where we take a short walk down a dirt road and arrive at a small house. A man directs us to the back, where we find a circle of chairs, a table, a bowl of dough, and a very large artisan oven. Our driver and guide, Josue, explains that we’re learning to bake three different traditional Nicaraguan bocadillos (snacks): empanadas, rosquillasand viejitas

We start by washing our hands (always an important first step in cooking) and then mixing the masa (dough), which is made with flour, cheese, butter, oil, eggs, and milk. When we arrived, it was already partially mixed… so we pour all the rest of the ingredients into the giant bowl and four of us knead it with our hands until it’s soft and easily formed into shapes (and Josue gives it his stamp of approval and tells us we’re finished).

It’s quite messy!

The baker then shows us how to take spoonfuls of dough, flatten them into circles, and fill them with a sweet-salty mixture of cheese and sugar — fairly common in Nicaraguan baking (and incredibly yummy… would recommend highly). With the help of a round plastic base, we fold the circles in half around the filling. Then we seal the edges shut with our fingers and lay them one by one in a long rectangular pan. Just like that, we’re finished with our first snack: empanadas.

We make viejitas next (literally translated as “little old ones”, which is rather confusing at first, but that’s just the name of the snack). Taking balls of the same dough, we press them with our fingers and form shallow bowls that would later be filled with a sweet brown sugar (it was very dark and tasted vaguely of molasses — several of the students taste it before we put it in). We place them carefully in the pans, and two students spoon sugar into each one of them before baking.

Finally, we roll all the leftover dough into small doughnut-like circles and put them into the pans as well — these, the baker tells us, are rosquillas
It’s harder than it sounds.
Hannah’s note: if you Google “rosquillas” you’ll see something that looks a little like a doughnut rolled in sugar… but Nica rosquillas are different! They’re crunchy and a little bit salty (because of the cheese in the dough, probably) and definitely more like biscuits than like doughnuts. They were still pretty great, though.

Once we put everything into the pans (we go through all the dough and filled up four large ones!) to the baker’s satisfaction, he and Josue slide each pan into the oven.

Speaking of which, the oven itself is huge… about as tall as I am (5 feet) and easily 6 feet wide and long. It’s also very hot, since the fire has been burning brightly since we arrived, so the baker uses a long staff to push the pans into the side of the oven between the wall and the hot coals.

We wait about twenty minutes for the baking to finish, telling stories while we sit. Then we pour coffee and eat lots (and lots, and lots, and lots) of piping hot pastries… the baker even gives us bags so that we can take some back to La Mariposa with us!

they’re delicious.

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Beach Day! A Trip to La Boquita (La Mariposa Adventures)

Written by Hannah Chinn, La Mariposa Intern

La Boquita Beach, a little less than half an hour away from the pueblo (town) of Diriamba (which in turn is only about twenty minutes from La Mariposa), is one of the most popular visitor beaches in our area, so we have a trip there as well! It’s raining when our two microbuses set out — especially during wet season in Nicaragua, which is May-November, showers are frequent and often unpredictable — and so when we arrive, there’s practically no one here except for our group. But the younger students run right into the waves and the older students pick their tables in the outdoor restaurant on the shore and it’s pretty clear that, rain or no rain, we’re having our beach day.

There are several different restaurants on the beach, each with a series of thatched-roof shelters and light wood tables, framed by hammocks or bamboo seats and large pots of flowering plants. A pleasant family greets us and hands us menus, so we make ourselves comfortable there.

Thankfully, the rain goes away both suddenly and quickly (also fairly typical for wet season) and the sun is out and shining brightly within the first hour or so of our stay. One of the boys rents a four-wheeler to drive up and down the beach (although there are also horseback rides available), and more of our students join one another in the water. I find an assortment of shells near the rocks along the shore and wave at a group of little girls splashing in the waves.

The beach day is probably the most laid-back weekend trip we have; it’s the least structured, and so it allows guests the most amount of freedom. It’s surprising how quickly the time passes here (and between orders of pineapple juice,  and trips to the little pulperia, corner shop, our students manage to keep busy). Several of us stretch out towels on the sand and soak up the sunshine until it gets too hot to stay there much longer, while the others decide to walk up the beach and see what they can find, collecting coral and shells along the way. The sand is warm and soft under our feet.

Lunch is delicious, if a little bit more… well, whole than we might have expected… but no one else seems surprised. Here at La Boquita, the seafood is fresh and the more common grilled meat is equally tasty (and the rice, as per usual, is excellent).
Yes, that is a whole fried fish. Also, in case you were wondering, that orange dish is not in fact a real mango. I was disappointed too. But the sauce still tastes great, trust me!

Since I’m from Portland, where the ocean is usually way too cold to swim, it’s new to be able to bob up and down in the waves, which if not warm are definitely swimming-pool temperature. I mention this to the others and they laugh, but I’m dead serious… this isn’t something I’m used to! This becomes clear when a giant wave knocks me and another student off our feet and sends us spinning head-over-heels and inhaling saltwater, but it lasts only about seven seconds before we surface, more surprised than injured.

Oh well, you win some you lose some. I’d rather be swimming in the ocean than sitting in the rain, and besides, what else can you expect from a beach day?