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Ride ‘Em Cowgirls

Today, Katie and I stuck our pale, bugbite-riddled city legs in the stirrups and went on a trail ride with our awesome new girlfriends Becca, Maria, and Wiebke.

We were thrilled at the chance to get to gallop freely through the Costa Rican pastures, feeling the wind in our hair, the sun on our skin and the extremely hard saddle under our butts.

The horses were maybe less thrilled.

Ok, and maybe Katie wasn’t exactly ‘thrilled’ either.

But I was.  And this is my post, so I can remember it however I want.  So, hah.

It turned out to be a truly fantastic day.  At seemingly every bend in the trail, we’d come across something that made me so eternally grateful that I’d decided to grab my camera, after all.

Such somethings as this:

And this:

Just keep it movin’, sister.

And this adorable little guy…

whose large, less adorable mom arrived on the scene with a quickness. Fortunately, she ended up being a really good sport about us camera-stalking her child.

We even spotted capuchin monkeys!

There he is!

Ok, technically Weibke did all the spotting.  I’m not entirely sure I would’ve known how to spot a capuchin (or even what a capuchin was) even if I’d had a pair of binoculars and a Spotting Capuchins for Dummies handbook.

In the end, we got to see some amazing things and no one was bucked, bitten or trampled.

Even Katie was a happy cowgirl.

It was a supremely fantastic day that we’ll remember for a long, long time to come.

Which is about the amount of time it’ll take us to walk normally again.

Yipee-kai-yay, y’all!

Strange New World

The world here is bleak and full of shadows.

Chile Pepper Row

The plants are foreign and creepy.

Chile Pepper Flower
Chile Peppers

And the beasts are ferocious and wild.

Wild Costa Rica Beast

Okay.  I haven’t taken the camera out much since we’ve been here, because:

a)  It’s kind of hard to take pictures with sweat dripping into your eyes.

b)  It’s kind of hard to take pictures when it’s raining outside.

c)  It’s kind of hard to take pictures when you’re already late to work and sweat is dripping into your eyes.

d)  Sometimes I like to see the world with my own eyes – sans sweat – before I try to capture any of it with a camera.

But yesterday our new boss asked me to take some photos of the farm – specifically black and white photos of chile peppers – that he can use for the company website and various marketing projects.  I definitely need some more practice, but for me it’s really difficult to capture the beauty here in black and white.  The color is the beauty.

So finally, for your viewing pleasure, you can see just a little of what Erin and I see every day.

This is part of the chile pepper patch, where they’re currently growing several different varieties of peppers:

Chile Pepper Farm

Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that in neglecting to take the camera out our first day here, I may have missed my only opportunity to get a clear shot of the volcanoes that serve as the backdrop of our little town.  I can see them from the office window – WHEN they’re not obscured by clouds.

Here’s what it looks like on a clear day:

Chile Pepper Farm with Volcanoes

The peppers themselves are quite beautiful…

Chile Pepper

…as are their flowers before they bear fruit…

Chile Pepper Flower

…as well as the rows in which they’ve been planted.

Chile Pepper Row

And while the peppers don’t look bad in black and white…

There’s nothing more vibrant in my world right now than a red hot chile pepper.

Red Chile Pepper

Just Another Day at the Office

This is the planter outside the front door of our office.

Notice anything… unusual?

Planter

Umm….

Big Snake

Uhhh….

Big Costa Rica Snake

Is this our new office pet?

Office Snake

Because if it is, well… I might have a problem with this.

Giant Office Snake

Just a little.

Livin’ La Vida Costa

Well folks, as Katie mentioned earlier, we made it into Bagaces safe and sound despite our best efforts to get kidnapped and sold on the black market.

We showed up on our host family’s doorstep late Monday night exhausted, sweaty, and smelling like animals at the county fair.  And, for some reason, they still let us in.  Partly it’s because they’re the nicest people on Earth.  And partly it’s because they knew we wouldn’t last an hour out in the Costa Rican wilderness on our own.

There seems to be a vast assortment of wildlife just waiting for a couple of clueless gringas like us to try to befriend it–and, considering my appalling lack of survival instincts, I probably would’ve been mauled by parakeets and lizards by the time I reached the end of their driveway.

Anyway, we’ve been extremely busy since we got here (hence the embarrassing lack of posts from me) getting to know our gracious host family, learning what we’ll be working on while we’re here, scoping out the area, settling into our super-sweet digs, and maintaining a code-red level of alertness for all potentially sting-y/bite-y things.

So busy, in fact, that we haven’t really had time to take any pictures.  Gulp.

But we will.  And toot-sweet.  Promise.

In the meantime, you’ll have to settle for my first impression of Costa Rica, which is:  It’s beautiful, humid, breathtaking, unpredictable, buggy, wild, quaint, laidback, green, quiet, noisy, and rugged.

And here Katie and I are, living all up in the mix.

On any given day, we see birds and volcanoes and horses and cows and huge thunderstorms and green fields and dogs and friendly locals in old pick-up trucks who wave and honk hello as they nearly run us off the narrow dirt roads.  And that’s just on our mile-long walk to and from work.

Still, by far, the best commute than I’ve ever had.

It’s Hot as F*ck in Chile Town.

Well, crap.

So apparently we’re a lot more efficient at this travel business than anyone gave us credit for, because we ended up arriving in our host town a bit earlier than our host family expected us.  Apparently, they thought we’d get hung up in customs or at the bus station and have to hole up in San Jose for the evening.

But our dirty, sweaty selves made it in record time – thanks to the help of a couple friendly strangers and sheer luck.

We took a cab, plane, another plane, another cab, a bus and finally a truck to get here, but we are here.

After waking up at the ass-crack of dawn this morning (thanks east-coast time zone), we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast and cup of excellent coffee overlooking some distant volcanoes, went on a tour of our new small town, were introduced to the other interns and employees here, grocery shopped in a nearby town, ate chicken burritos for lunch, and are finishing up the day doing some office tasks in an attempt to earn our keep.

I promise we will be sharing pictures soon.  But I actually have to take some first.  There’s been a lot to soak in.  And a lot soaked, period.  At one point today I thought I could wring out my shirt.  And no, it wasn’t raining.  But we did witness our first torrential downpour this afternoon, complete with sideways rain, nearby lightning strikes, and about a half-a-dozen mini power outages.  No one even blinked.

We’ve been overwhelmed, but excited.

Exhausted, but eager to learn.

Sweaty, but happy.

I’ve Got Baggage

Today we’re making the seven-hour road trip up to Maryland to see our dear friends Erin and Chuckles.  From there, Erin and I will fly to Costa Rica in a couple of days.  I’m all packed and ready to go (I think), and all I can do now is sit here twiddling my thumbs waiting for the hubs to get off work.

Work?

I think I’ve forgotten what that is…

All I know is that I’ve managed to squeeze my life into two bags.  My entire world, for 2 months, will look like this:

Travel Bags

For 2 months, these two bags will function as my closet, bathroom vanity, library, pharmacy, “home” office, and primary source of neck and shoulder pain.

As you can see, I have left no room for souvenirs.  That’s why they invented digital photography, memory cards, and the post office.

Packing light is not my forte.

Regardless, how do I feel about the fact that my life has been condensed to a couple of backpacks?

Pretty.  Damn.  Liberated.

A Coffee Story (or, How I Spent My Morning)

It’s one of those mornings.

The kind of morning where you awake, bleary-eyed and bewildered as to how you arrived in this bedroom, this body.

The kind where you open your eyes to find your shirt has twisted completely around you, your pajama pantlegs are hitched up past your knees, and your hair has fashioned itself into an intricate network of Sailor’s knots.  Your mouth gives off the distinct impression that it spent all night gumming a gym sock like a Werthers Original.

And now you are jonesing for a caffeine fix.

So you sit up, spend a moment orienting yourself to your new vertical-ness, kick off the sheets, swing your knees to the edge and let your feet, Lewis and Clark, scout the way to the kitchen.

But upon arriving at your destination, something’s amiss.  You go to scoop some coffee and…

Huh.

You stand there for a moment, unconvinced.  Let out a little cough.

Perhaps you’d be more apt to appreciate the dramatic irony of the situation if you were able to fully open your eyes.

Another minute of silent reflection.  Then, you start grasping at straws:

You check the coffee machine just to be sure you didn’t already scoop coffee, then suffer a mild stroke that damaged the coffee-scooping short-term memory region of your brain.

Coffee?  Are you in there already?  Do I need to go to the hospital?

No such luck.

You stand there stupidly in the center of the kitchen, scratching yourself.  Giving this information a minute to sink in.

“Well that sucks,” you say out loud, to no one in particular.

Then you get serious.  You consider your options.  You do a quick equation in your head, calculating the time it would take to get dressed and brushed and scrubbed into a version of you passable enough to venture into the outside world and adding that to the distance to the nearest coffee shop, then subtracting by how much you despise Starbucks’ burnt-tasting coffee and insane price tag and, finally, dividing by how weak your resolve is to go entirely stone-cold caffeine-sober today.

You’re not exactly sure what the final answer is since you’ve always sucked at math, but you know you don’t want to go.

But, then again, you know you have to.

Because it is, after all, one of those mornings.

The End.

I Want It That Way. With Mushrooms.

I’ve mentioned before that when I first got into this blogging business I had zero intention of posting recipes.  Ever.  I originally thought that would be like Elmer Fudd writing articles on behalf of PETA, or the Backstreet Boys trying to teach us the artistry of compelling lyrics.

It just didn’t make sense.

But then this happened.  It was back when I had a full-time job and was trying to write a new post every single day.  Back before I had an awesome writing partner to relieve the pressure.

I’d wanted to reveal our finished kitchen, but the problem was, it wasn’t finished.  So in a desperate attempt to fill some space, I showed you the (burned) spinach salmon bundles I’d made for dinner that night.  They were burned, people!  I’m so not good at this.  But for some reason, some of you told me you liked the post.  And some of you even tried the recipe.  Which is pretty damn cool.

So I started showing you more of my recipe endeavors.  Not because I’m a great cook – I’m not even a very good cook.  But like I said in that first recipe post:

I’m not really a “pinch-of-this, dash-of-that” type of person, but more of a “put-the-measuring-cup-on-the-counter-and-bend-down-to-eye-level-to-make-sure-I’m-getting-just-the-right-amount” type person.

Cooking doesn’t come naturally to me.  But I can follow instructions – if I haven’t had too much wine.  (At least Erin doesn’t have to worry about that nasty business anymore, eh?)  And I guess I’ve been justifying the continuation of the recipe posts by thinking there are more of you out there, like me, who’ve been afraid of cooking well into “adulthood” and just need a little encouragement in the way of pictures and “been-there-done-that” mess-up stories.

Because I’ve finally learned that IT’S OKAY TO MESS UP IN THE KITCHEN.

At least I hope it is, because I do it all the time.  So, I’ve come to you today with another recipe.  But if these are starting to bore you and you really couldn’t give two hoots about what I’ve stuffed into my expanding waistline last night, do let me know.  It won’t hurt my feelings – they aren’t even my own recipes!

But I do feel especially compelled to share what I made last night.  It was so… different.  So out of my usual comfort zone, and it turned out delicious, so yes.  I have to share.

Aside from acquiring some of the ingredients, it was deceptively simple to make.  It contained some of my usual friendly ingredients like pasta and butter.  But it also contained a couple I’d normally shy away from, like Japanese mayonnaise and chili garlic sauce.  I stopped at a local Asian market to pick up those things, and let me just tell you – I will be back.  The food they had there was incredible!  And scary.  But mostly incredible!  Oh, the sushi I could (attempt to) make…

So the original recipe that caught my eye yesterday can be found here.  The only thing I changed was cooking up a bed of pasta for the main dish.  You know, ’cause I like to keep it light.

Portobello Shroomies with Creamy Scallop Topping

Do NOT be scared of this concept.  Beef-less as it is, this was fit for company.

To make them, you will need:

  • 3 Tbsp. butter, divided
  • 4 large Portobello mushroom caps (My little po-dunk grocery store lets me buy these pre-packaged or in bulk, so you shouldn’t have a problem finding them.)
  • Garlic Powder
  • 1 Tbsp. butter
  • 2 lbs. scallops (I bought the super cheap 4 oz. bags of “mini” scallops.  They were 2 bags for $3, so I bought 4 bags.  Even though that’s only 1 pound, the amount turned out to be perfect to cover the mushroom caps.)
  • 1 cup Japanese mayonnaise (I bought the recommended Kewpie brand.  It has a freaky little cartoon baby on the front.  I hope this mayo isn’t made out of babies.)
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili-garlic sauce (They actually had this at the commissary on post, but I bought the jar at the Asian market.  I’m a wuss when it comes to spicy food, but I actually wish I’d added a bit more of this.  The flavor was great, and I found the mayonnaise a little overpowering.)
  • 2 Tbsp. green onions, chopped
  • 8 oz. linguine (optional)
  • Drizzle of olive oil (optional)
Portabello Mushroom Cap Dinner

*Missing from team photo:  Garlic powder and pasta.  I think they were spotted fooling around under the bleachers.

Directions:

1.  Defrost your scallops (assuming you’re not lucky enough to live somewhere you can get fresh seafood and had to buy frozen) according to the package directions.  And if you decided to make a lovely bed of pasta for your shroomies, go ahead and get your water boiling.

pot of water

2.  Thoroughly rinse your Portobello mushrooms.  Don’t be scared of the gills – they actually feel kinda good to the touch.  (Is that weird??)  Divide the 3 Tbsp. of butter into 4 equal pieces.  Melt a piece in a sauté pan over medium-high heat, then add a mushroom cap and cook until soft in the center.  (This took approx. 2-3 minutes per side for me.)  Repeat with the remaining mushroom caps and butter.

Divide Butter
melt butter in pan
cook portabello caps

*I found this to be a bit meticulous.  If I make this again, I’ll probably use my large grill pan and cook all 4 caps at once.  Cooking them one at a time forced me to rinse the pan between mushrooms because the butter would begin to burn.

3.  Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.  As the mushrooms cook, place them on the sheet gill side up, so they make little “bowls.”  Mmmmm… fungus bowls.  Generously sprinkle them with garlic powder.

line pan with foil
garlic powder

Oh, and your pasta water should be boiling by now, so salt it and add the linguine.

cook linguine

4.  Preheat your broiler and set the oven rack about 6″ away from it.  Do you use your broiler?  I do all the time.  It’s FANTASTIC.  Just remember to leave your oven door cracked open a couple inches while your food cooks.  That’s all there is to it!

5.  Melt the last tablespoon of butter in a skillet over medium-high heat and sauté your scallops until they’re lightly browned.  If you’re using larger scallops, they’d probably be great seared.  But mine ended up kind of boiling in the pan because they were cheap and frozen and filled with water.  No worries, though – they still turned out great.

cook scallops

Fill each mushroom cap with the scallops.

6.  In a small bowl, mix together the cup of Japanese mayonnaise and 1/2 (or more) teaspoon of garlic chili sauce.

mayo sauce

*Be careful not to let go of the foil top of the chili sauce while you’re opening it, lest you splatter red sauce all over your counter and walls.  I’ve been putting my backsplash to good use.  But that’s probably just me.


chili sauce splatter

This Kewpie brand Japanese mayo looked strange. It came in a very flimsy plastic bottle inside a loosely wrapped plastic pouch.  But the mayo itself was very similar in consistency to the mayo we’re used to – just a bit of a different flavor and probably worth purchasing if you’re going to try this recipe.

Japanese mayonnaise

Anyway, mix the mayo and chili sauce together and spoon that mixture over your scallop-filled mushrooms.

mix mayo sauce
spoon sauce over scallops

7.  Stick the pan under the broiler until the topping turns bubbly and slightly brown (about 3-5 minutes).  WATCH CAREFULLY.  The broiler can do wonderful things, but it can also burn food in an instant.

broil portabello mushrooms

8.  When your pasta is done, drain it and add a drizzle of olive oil to keep it from getting dry and sticky.  I also added a bit of the mayo/chili sauce topping, which worked really well.

cooked pasta

9.  When your mushroom topping is nice and bubbly and starting to brown, take them out of the oven.  Chop up a green onion (or two) and sprinkle on top of the mushrooms.  I ended up only using the green part of the onion.

bubbly broiled mushrooms
portabello mushroom with scallop cream sauce

10.  Assemble!  Dish some pasta onto a plate, then use a STRONG spatula to maneuver a mushroom cap onto it.  I say this because I used a WEAK spatula for the first one, and it splattered upside-down (of course) back onto the baking sheet.

Yes, these things happen to me.

All.  the.  time.

Sorry, no picture to commemorate my humiliation.

But I do have these:

This should have some plain roasted asparagus sitting next to it.  Yum.

So think you might try it?  Or is this just a little too freaky for you?