Monday Meal Review: Nicaragua

Lake Nicaragua, a.k.a. The Sweet Sea and Cocibolca Lake. Photo by Aaron Escobar.

When I say “toxic,” what comes to mind? Is it a food? Is it a person in your life? Is it a lifestyle led by you or someone you know? This week we ate yucca – a tuber known to have toxic bits of cyanide if processed improperly. In the early days of this adventure, I made the mistake of grating up the tough fibers on the inside of the yucca, where these toxins are concentrated. Several hours later this novice error caused me to crash down onto the floor unconscious, only to awake with ringing ears, vertigo, and my insides turned out.

Toxicity. It’s not pretty.

The reality is, we all have to deal with toxins, whether they come by way of food, people, or lifestyles. Over the last few weeks I’ve had run-ins with all three varieties of toxins, the latest of which is the yucca in our Nicaraguan Global Table (thankfully I knew better this time around and prepared the tuber properly).

Toxins do one thing perfectly: they drag us down and suck our spirits dry. Sometimes I find myself wondering how we can attain world peace if we can’t figure the toxins out in our own circles.

This is real life and here are the two main lessons I’ve learned:

Telica Volcano. Photo by Steffen Amann.

1. We can’t change others. We can only change ourselves.

Take a stand when dealing with toxic people. This will control the situation. When I was in high school, I knew someone who took pleasure in calling everyone up to say bad things about a classmate. In one breath they’d say “I would never say anything bad about her” and in the next they would spill a list of complaints. At the time I didn’t know how to handle it. I awkwardly mumbled and got off the phone as quickly as I could.

Now that I am older, I wish I could go back in time and give my younger self some advice. I would tell that gossip “I don’t agree with you. You’d be better suited to take up this issue with that person directly.”  If you’re lucky, the person will stop gossiping with you. If you’re really, really lucky they’ll rethink gossiping altogether.  Either way, you’re taking a stand and that will draw the right kinds of people around you.

Take some time this week to look at times you are tempted to gossip. Are there jokes you chuckle at, despite the fact that they are insensitive to another culture or person? We can’t change others but we can change ourselves. Peace starts with self.

2. Consider your options

A toxic lifestyle can be addicting and hard to break away from. This is usually because we operate with our blinders on. We think our current path is the only way – that we’re stuck. This is almost never the case. If we could just step back a little, we would see that there are hundreds of directions we could take at any given time. The smoker becomes a marathon runner. The imprisoned becomes a leader.  The beggar becomes a rich man. The homebody travels the world. The stir-crazy mom with picky husband and little girl… cooks the world.

With a little course correction anything is possible. Different friends, different activities, different non-toxic path. (Incidentally, travel is a great way to discover what possibilities await).

Here’s a Nicaraguan poem about the phases of life to inspire you:

Far Away
by Ruben Dario  (1867-1916)

Ox that I saw in my childhood, as you steamed
in the burning gold on the Nicaraguan sun,
there on the rich plantation filled with tropical
harmonies; woodland dove, of the woods that sang
with the sound of the wind, of axes, of birds and wild bulls:
I salute you both, because you are both my life.

You, heavy ox, evoke the gentle dawn
that signaled it was time to milk the cow,
when my existence was all white and rose;
and you, sweet mountain dove, cooing and calling,
you signify all that my own springtime, now
so far away, possessed of the Divine Springtime.

I know things are usually a little lighter around here, but sometimes we go through heavy times. Having the right tools gets us through those times faster, so we can find peace and have fun again. 

How do you deal with toxic foods, peoples, or lifestyles? How do you find peace in it all?



Lime & Cabbage Slaw with Yucca | Vigoron [Recipe]

What I loved most about this dish:

Oh, this is grand! The lime slaw on the comforting pieces of boiled yucca makes me so happy. This is a new favorite for me and Ava. She really enjoyed eating this with her hands. Keith even liked it, probably because the flavors are like salsa. In fact, he said that he would prefer the fresh lime dressing on salad over any other dressing he’s had to date. As someone who once swore to “only like Olive Garden salad dressing” … well, he’s come a long, long way!

What I loved least about this dish:

I wasn’t crazy about the chicharrones (although Ava had fun eating the crispy bits). I think next time I’ll stick to just the slaw and yucca.

Pineapple Horchata [Recipe]

What I loved most about this drink:

Sweet and mild, pineapple horchata is a refreshing summertime drink. Keith, aka Mr Picky liked it full strength – thick like a smoothie. I liked it somewhere in the middle.. All the recipes I found suggested using the peel and core to extract extra flavor. I find that taking little steps to make the most of our food – to stretch it – is so satisfying in our “toss and go” culture.

What I loved least about this drink:

While pineapple horchata tastes great cold, it smells faintly of baby food when warm. Very strange. I think I’m going to try to make it again with the cold method sometime – so I don’t have to heat up the kitchen. This means soaking the rice overnight and then pulverizing it in the morning to make the “rice milk.” Ava wasn’t keen on this horchata (she guzzled down the strawberry almond horchata we made for Mexico, though!).

Ava’s Corner


  1. I am so sorry you had an encounter with the toxicity of yucca – back home we call it “Mandioca brava’ , which translates as “angry yucca”. In Brazilian markets, they sell exclusively the non-toxic variety, which is known as “aipim” or “macaxeira”

    cooking (or the heat of the sun) destroys the cyanide, but as you learned the hard way, dealing with “mandioca brava” in its raw state is very dangerous! Glad you are ok…

    as to toxic people, I try to avoid them at all costs – they are unhappy and their sourness contaminates everything. Life is too short to be around them.

    Loved your post, thank you!

    • Sasha Martin says

      I’m not sure how I managed it … but it was definitely “angry” … that’s the perfect word for it.

  2. Jill says

    I went through chemo in 1999 and lost a LOT of brainpower. Those drug protocols are kind of the ultimate in toxicity without actually dying. I try to apply those lessons about recovery, forging new neural pathways, changing up the thinking processes etc to life in general.
    1 – Don’t tolerate toxic (people or circumstance) unless it is literally saving your life.
    2 – Teach your children that kindness is always good, and mean ALWAYS sucks.
    3 – Cooking can alleviate almost any frustration. If you have an epic fail with a recipe, then cook something else to alleviate THAT frustration.

    And after all is said and done, I think I’ll pass on the yucca, but that horchata looks like a very good frustration reliever… 😉

    • Sasha Martin says

      Oh, Jill – what a journey you have been on. You are right. Zero tolerance is ideal. This becomes difficult in situations of obligation like work and family. When that goes wrong, cooking is a great solution! In fact, perhaps brownies just might create world peace. BTW, the yucca is totally safe and yummy if you take that string thing out.. but easily substituted with potatoes if you’d rather. The slaw is too good to skip, so do try that if you like limes 🙂 Wishing you continued health and light.

      • Jill says

        Yes, family etc situations can be challenging, but being proactive with the positive makes it possible. (And, yes, sometimes I have to be so cloying to get through it that I gag… but it works!)

  3. Nice post…miss the video…
    Love & hugs Birthday Girl/Woman Sasha/Alexandra…
    Dear daughter: Have a wonderful week.

    • Sasha Martin says

      Thanks mom! Where are all these gray hairs coming from?? 😉 P.S. The video is right there..

  4. Most certainly words to live by. Last year I retired after 30 years of teaching – the longest stretch being at the junior high level. The degree of toxicity that I witnessed between young teenage girls (and boys too, but girls in particular) was disheartening. And the reality is – it was often modeled and supported by their parents. I know that there are many wonderful parents and teenagers out there – but it takes just a few to spread poison. I think of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s song “Teach Your Children” (I know that I’m showing my age). We guide by example.

    In retirement, I have the luxury of surrounding myself with the grace of wonderful friends; and the ability to remove myself from toxicity most of the time. I wish I knew back as a youngster what i know now – but I guess that’s how we come to where we are today!

  5. Simone says

    Loved the post, especially the pictures of Ava! She’s too cute!!! ‘Stand up for yourself’ is the line that I’ll take with me this week. It seems much easier sometimes to just keep quiet and keep your real thoughts to yourself, but that just allows meanness to keep thriving…
    Hoping that sunny days full of goof vibes and laughter are ahead of you!! Live’s too short and precious for toxicity. Yay for winning over the yucca again!!!!! 🙂
    P.S.: was it your birthday? If so, happy belated bday!!!

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