I spent a week in Nicaragua with my friend Cameron, her parents, and her parents’ good friends. We stayed on a farm called Finca las Nubes, and spent a lot of time reading, playing cards, visiting the animals, and swimming in our house’s infinity pool. We also went zip lining, swam in a crater lake, rode horses, went shopping in San Juan del Sur and Granada, and experienced the locals’ rituals on New Year’s – everyone builds these large scarecrow-type dolls (filled with fireworks in the middle) that represent the old year and at midnight they burn them in the street.
The way of life is so different in Nicaragua. Many use mule-drawn carts as transportation. The houses are all indoor/outdoor, often connecting to two or three others. Though Managua has multiple universities, college is usually out of the picture. Most people are poor, but they seem very happy.
Our house had its own driver, Dave, and chefs, Juan (right) and Moisés. Dave, the farm’s manager, was chatty, personable, and never without a beer in his hand. He moved to Central America from his home in North Carolina, married a Nicaraguan woman, and didn’t look back. He accompanied us on all of our outings, enhancing the experience with his colorful remarks and occasional conspiracy theories. Juan and Moisés were outstanding cooks. I wish I’d taken more pictures of their beautifully plated dishes. I loved the shredded beet salad with spicy chicken verde soup, the mahi mahi with a coconut plantain sauce, the steamed chayote that was served alongside most meals, the freshly squeezed juices (tamarind was my favorite), and of course the New Year’s chocolate cake with sliced starfruit.
When I got home, I made this peanut butter banana cake topped with a marzipan monkey in honor of Paco, the feisty monkey tied to a tree that resided on the farm.
I used this cake recipe, baking the batter in two six-inch cake pans instead of loaf pans, and this frosting recipe (doubled). Stack, fill, frost, and border with slivered almonds and rosemary trees. I used this video as a guide for the monkey. There weren’t any giraffes in Nicaragua, but add one if you’re feeling spontaneous. Its head will probably fall off.
This cake is one to eat alone on a Sunday morning while reading the paper. Cut yourself a generous slice and serve with a glass of cold milk or some coffee.