Thursday, July 30, 2009

arenal noshings

It's true that when in Costa Rica, the food is not going to be the rich mole's and spicy chiles that you'll find in Mexican cooking. In fact, the food is quite simple. Comida tipica (typical food) called gallo pinto (rice and beans) and casado (rice and beans + protein) are eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It's modest and can be quite lovely, just like the people of Costa Rica.

Our first stop in Arenal was where we were exposed to the most Americanized version of dining in Costa Rica. Well... actually I take that back. It's actually kind of hard to find real, honest to goodness, comida tipica in major Costa Rican cities. Randomly enough, our very first stop was at an Israeli restaurant on our way from the airport to Arenal. Loveat is a super cute restaurant serving ecclectic foods from burgers to pad thai to casado.


I was starving and the view was amazing. We were lucky enough to meet one of the owners, an Israeli lady who had moved to CR 5 years prior with 18 people. They opened this restaurant alongside the ziplines right next door. I always admire people who can take such a big leap of faith.

inside the restaurant

The first thing that we ordered was guanabana (pronounved gwa-NAH-veh-nah) juice. It's a funky big green fruit that is sweet but round, kind of like ripe pineapple. It was very tasty.

oddly refreshing guanabana juice

As for the main course, what option did I have, really? Of course I got the Med platter and I was very glad I did. Everything was just the perfect texture and taste. I thought to myself that it was quite odd to be eating perhaps the best falafel I've ever had in Costa Rica, but I wasn't about to argue. I was too busy eating.

look at the cute little pita patties

Here are come random pictures from other restaurants we went to.

the coolest iced tea, ever. look at that lime! the flesh was an amber color I've never seen before.



Then, for our one year anniversary (!), we went to the nicest/most expensive/most American restaurant in town, Don Rufino. Why did we do it? We read very good reviews, it was open late and had wine. Mostly the the latter two.

mmm... the wine was a lovely white blend from Chile.

some sort of steak, but I have to admit the potato piles looked like teeny turds.

The seafood plate was so much food. it was buttery and garlicky, but not overly so.

The obligatory anniversary dessert.

check out that tea timer!

Arenal may not have been the food mecca of Costa Rica, but I think more than anything, we chose the wrong places to go (barring the two restaurants I mentioned). Better food was to be had, and we were determined to find it.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

sizzle fizzle in arenal

Can you see it??!

Arenal Volcano. From our hotel room. Like a real, live, oozing, exploding, melting, torching, amazing volcano with lava and all. We had a great view from our balcony at Casa Luna Lodge in La Fortuna, Costa Rica. Costa Rica in July is smack dab in the middle of rainy season, so we saw a whole bunch of just that... rain. Not to fret, it did manage to clear just enough to almost see the peak of the currently active and erupting volcano. It was quite the amazing sight from our very nice and reasonable hotel room.

The open air hotel lobby

Arenal was the very first stop in our 3 city tour of Costa Rica. It was hard to plan a vacation in a country I didn't know, with hotels I've never heard of, in towns that I had no clue as to where they were. I am lucky enough to work with a few people who all seemed to agree that a three city trip was best to see the country in a short amount of time. Arenal (volcano), Monteverde (cloud forest), and Manuel Antonio (beach and jungle). So I took their advice and cross referenced my Lonely Planet Guidebook with TripAdvisor reviews and took the plunge. Veni, Vini, Vici.

Casa Luna Lodge was not my first choice. The Arenal Observatory was my first choice but it was completely booked. Because of their view of the volcano, Bran and I decided to take the drive (probably 20km, but about an hour of driving on craptastic CR roads) to the Observatory to check out all the fuss. It was definitely worth it.

There were views of the lake:

Hikes through the jungle:

A nifty suspension bridge:

Cute critters:

It was definitely worth the drive. And then some.

The next day (and our 1 year anniversary!), we took a trip to La Fortuna Catarata (waterfall). It was too beautiful to even capture in a picture, but I'll do my best.

and this was the other one that only shows up with lots of rain:

So yes, Arenal! It was definitely worth a stay! As for the food - I'll save that for tomorrow.


Monday, July 27, 2009

*peeks in*

Guess I'm not eating tonight

¡Hola mi preciosos amigos! ¿Hablas español? I don't (well, yo habla un poco español)*! It's definitely an asset when traveling in any Spanish speaking country, including Costa Rica. ...smooth transition... Speaking of Costa Rica, guess where I've been hiding out the past little while? That's right, Brandon and I went to CR to celebrate our 1st anniversary (In related news, he got me a small camera to keep in my purse and true lens for my Nikon to boot, so I will be taking muy pictures from now on! Also, I'm an ass. We said that the trip was our gift to each other. I didn't get him anything but a sweet card and the news that I'll officially be adding his name to mine, shocking everyone, expecially Bran. It is the paper anniversary you know!).

I have so many cool things to share about my far too short trip through this ridiculously amazing and fascinating country - some food related, some note, all fairly awesome if I do say so myself. Stay tuned!

*I apologize for most likely butchering most of that. Why, oh why, did I take 5 years of Latin?

Thursday, July 09, 2009

salted rosemary and olive focaccia

Do you remember that scene from Clueless where Cher plops that big piece of doughie substance on to a baking sheet before stumbling into some "bad lighting" while trying, fruitlessly, to seduce the "Oscar Wilde reading, Streisand ticket holding friend of Dorothy" Christian? Cher was really on to something. There is nothing quite like the smell of freshly baked bread when you walk through the door. Whether it's to show your love or in anticipation of some lovin', bread is always a wonderful, homie, satisying smell to unexpectedly wander in to.

This focaccia recipe is one from my vegetarian stage (though I still eat very minimal meat- only fish and fowl). The recipe is one from The Greatest Ever Vegetarian Cookbook (no, that's really it's name) on the very last page. The first time I tested it, I was a junior in college. It was at the very start of my getting extremely interested in cooking AND when I started dating Bran. Ahhhhh memories. Anyway, it always turns out well. Just make it, mmkay?
*Salted Rosemary and Olive Focaccia*
2 cups bread flour, sifted
1/2 tsp salt
1/a oz sachet rapid rise dried yeast
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 sprigs of rosemary, leaves removed and chopped
10 kalamata olives, pitted and chopped (optional)
1 tbsp olive oil

for the topping:
6 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp rock salt (or pink salt if you have it)
1 sprig of rosemary, leaves removed

Mix toghether the flour, salt yeast, garlic, rosemary and olives in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and add the olive oil and 2/3 cup warm water. Mix thoroughly to form a soft dough.

Turn out the dough on to a floured work surface and knead for 10-15 minutes. Put the dough in an oiled bowl and cover with oiled plastic wrap or a dish towel. Leave to rise in a warm place for 45 minutes, until the dough has doubled in bulk.

Turn out the dough and knead lightly again. Roll out to an oval shape, about 1/2 inch thick.

Place the dough on a greased baking sheet, cover loosly with oiled plastic wrap of a dish towel and leave in a warm place for 25-30 minutes to rise again.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Make indentations with your fingertips all over the top of the bread. Drizzle 2/3's of the olive oil over the top, then sprinkle with the salt and rosemary.

Bake for 25 minutes until golden. The bread should sound hollow when tapped underneath. Transfer to a wire rack and spoon the remaining olive oil over the top.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

cherry pickin' fun and infused vodkas

The trees

Riddle me this: Is it fun? Is it free (or close to it)? Is it outdoors? If an activity meets all three of these criteria, then Brandon and I are probably doing it, have done it, plan to do it, or want to plan to do it on the weekend. Cherry picking is a fun Saturday activity that definitely fits the bill. It's cheap, tons of fun, and beautiful!

We went to Riley's Mile High Ranch all the way out in Yucaipa because, after a few minutes of research on the Internet, we knew they still had a good crop left. It was quite the trek, but well worth it. Walk up to the giant barn and they will give you a bucket for $10. You can pick to your heart's content - or as much as you can fit in the bucket. The cherries are perfect right now, so get your patooties out there and start picking!
Lugging my haul... heavy!

I got home with two giant bags of cherries and no real idea what to do with them. One can only eat so many plain cherries in the matter or a week. So, to start off, I figured I'd deal with them in the best way I knew how... in booze!

*Cherry Vodka*
Crap ton of cherries
Crap ton of vodka

Mix together. Let sit for a few days. Mix in cocktails or drink straight!

And since I bought two handles of Absolut Vodka (I almost always use Absolut or Smirnoff because they are perfectly suitable here) and had plenty of extra, I made a batch of my famous...

*Pineapple Lime Vodka*
1 Pineapple
5-6 limes, zested

Mix together. Let sit for a few days. You can add pineapple juice and lime juice if you need it to 'mature' faster. Serve over ice.

I love to keep these vodka concoctions in the freezer during the summer... they are absolutely fabulous and always a crowd pleaser. Bonus: These make cute gifts if you bottle them in mason jars and tie a ribbon around the top.