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Ninety-Nine Bottles of Sauce in a Box

Ninety-nine bottles of sauce… Take one out, pass it about…

Wait! We just put those in there.

Okay.  Many of you have probably been wondering just what the heck we’ve been doing with our time during the day here in Costa Rica.  How do we earn our keep in this beautiful place?

Well, I’ve mentioned before that we came here primarily to work for an up-and-coming, family-owned hot sauce company called Chile Town.  We knew before we arrived that there would be some office work involved, including writing press releases and blog posts for the company website.  We also knew that we would potentially be making some of the sauce itself.

What we didn’t know is what, exactly, making hot sauce entailed.

It starts with the chile peppers, most of which are grown and hand-picked right here on the property.

Without giving away too many trade secrets before the sauce gets released to the U.S., I will say that some of the hottest peppers in the world are grown and used right here.  For that reason, caution must be used even during the picking-process.  Notice the gloves.  You don’t dare touch your eyes or exposed skin after handling hot peppers.

Chile Peppers

At this point some type of magic happens and the peppers are somehow washed, seeded, and mashed up into what we call… well mash.  By the way, at Chile Town each individual hot sauce uses an individual type of chile pepper – unlike many other hot sauces, which just use an extract to bring the heat, the sauces we’re helping to make here actually use the heat and flavor that come directly from the chile variety itself.  So a mild(er) sauce like the one called La Muñeca (“The Doll”) uses a less-spicy variety of pepper (yellow scotch bonnet) than the sauce called Bandito (“The Bandit”), which uses orange habaneros.

It’s all very scientific.

And if you think habaneros are spicy, some of the Chile Town sauces get even hotter than that!

*By the way, thanks to Becs for taking most of the following photos.  My gloved and mash-covered fingers were not about to get anywhere near my beloved camera.  Or my hair, apparently, which is a mess.  Apologies.

So what we end up with is this mash.

chile pepper mash

Appetizing, no?

Of course, the color/consistency vary depending on the type of pepper we’re using.  These are smoked jalapeños for the smoky Don Fuego (“Fire Boss”) sauce.

The first part of this entire process is really just basic cooking – we mix all the ingredients according to Aaron’s (aka “The Mayor’s”) top secret recipes and stick ‘em on the stove to simmer.

Simmering Chile Town Hot Sauce

Here’s where it gets tricky.  Once all the ingredients are partying together in the pot and the sauce starts to thicken up, it’s time to blend.  This ensures a smoother, even consistency and that all of the flavors are truly melded to perfection.

The problem?  An industrial-sized blender, Aaron owns not.

So we use the small one.  Again, and again.  And again.

Blending Chile Town Hot Sauce

I’ll admit that this is probably the scariest part of the process for me.  I mean – you have this substance that is 2 kinds of hot – temperature and spicy – so if the blender decides to say… I don’t know… blow up in your face, you’re seriously burned.  Heat burned and heat burned.  Not pretty.  I’ve caught a splatter or two to know.

So we try to use the utmost precaution, especially during this phase of sauce production.

Blending Chile Town Hot Sauce

Once everything is blended, it goes back in the pot and back on the heat.  This time it needs to get to a certain (extremely hot) temperature before it can be bottled.  The goal is to have everything nice and evenly cooked to the desired level of thickness.

Don Fuego Chile Town Hot Sauce

Aaron’s stove takes a beating.

While the sauce is cooking, we need to wash bottles.  Lots and lots of bottles.

Hot Sauce Bottles

And of course, since no one wants to buy empty hot sauce bottles, we need to fill ‘em.

Bottling Chile Town Hot Sauce

This step is a tid bit precarious, but it’s nothing we can’t handle.

Boxing Hot Sauce

We are sauce-making machines.

No thanks to this punk, who didn’t even bother to watch.

Stella Dog

Once they cool a bit, we add the seals and labels.  Eventually, they look like this:

Chile Town Hot Sauce

Pretty groovy, huh?

Ironically, the most stressful part of the process is after all the sauce is made and we’re cleaning out the pots.  When the cold water hits the warm hot sauce remnants, the noxious chile fumes somehow get set off and I’m thrown into an ugly, hacking and sneezing fit.  It ain’t pretty.

And while Erin’s superior writing/editing skills have since earned her a place back in the air-conditioned office, I really don’t mind toiling over a steaming hot chile pepper concoction several days a week.  A true sense of accomplishment accompanies every seal of every lid; and while I dread the potential day when Aaron opens a bottle of sauce I made from one of his recipes and, God forbid, something just doesn’t taste quite right, I will at least savor the experience until that time.

Even though all of the bottles that eventually get sold in the U.S. will have been made to exact specifications in a factory by qualified professionals, I know I will smile every time I see one because I am now a first-hand witness to just some of the frustration, sweat, and determination that goes into creating a product.

A livelihood.

A passion.

And it’s pretty damn sweet.  And spicy.

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Writing Under the Influence

Three weeks ago, I wrote a rambling list of thoughts while shivering on the couch in a sweaty, disoriented haze during The Most Heinous Sinus Infection Ever Recorded in the History of the World, Period.

Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating, but not–if I may utilize my stellar Spanish skills–by mucho.

Anyway, after the sinus infection spent the weekend torturing me and then pushed me out the back of its tinted-window van Monday morning, I was so positively elated to be over the ordeal, I forgot all about the list.

Until today.

And since I’ve had a major case of writers’ block this past week (hence the lack of posts), I figure a half-coherent list of musings is still better than anything else I could come up with right now.

So, bon appetit!

1. Why is it always that the song in which I only know five words is the one song I have stuck in my head all day long?  This constant repetition of the first two lines of “La Cucaracha” is greatly diminishing my quality of life.

2. At what point are you too old to have ice cream cake on your birthday?  Because I would like to be euthanized before that age.

3. Is there a more awkward situation than standing on the outskirts of a group photo and not knowing whether you’re in the frame or not?  Seriously, do you squeeze in and smile, stand where you are and awkwardly pose, or just get the hell out of there?

Decisions, decisions…

4. I will consider myself at the pinnacle of social self-mastery when I am finally able to refrain from the knee-jerk response “You too!” when waiters tell me to enjoy my meal.

5.  Why do I always panic and suddenly forget my phone number when someone asks for it?

6.  I’m one of those people who unintentionally creates my own bastardized language by combining words that are similar in meaning.  Like, one time, an old boss once asked me to do something and instead of saying “No problem” or “You’re welcome”, I responded with “No, your problem.”

7.  If I drop my keys on the ground, I’m more willing to believe it’s because they are spiteful things hellbent on making me look stupid in public than the fact that I might just be clumsy.

8.  Carrots are a vegetable that nobody really has a strong opinion on, but everyone has an opinion on carrot cake.

Fun History Fact:  30 percent of our nation’s wars has been caused by conflicting views on carrot cake.

9.  Does the sound of a slide whistle automatically bring perverted images to everyone else’s mind too, or is it just me?

10.  The following things are unforgivably creepy to me:  porcelain doll collections, velvet paintings of sad-eyed clowns or children, mannequins with faces and/or nipples, and ventriloquist dummies.  If I am over at your house and I see any of the above, I will immediately assume you lured me here to make a coat out of my skin.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

11.  Whenever I don’t want to clean a dish, I’ll leave it in the sink.  Later, if I come back around and it’s still in there, I’ll get mad that someone didn’t wash it.  What, do I have to do everything around here?

12.  To me, there are very few life situations for which “Woot woot!”or “Dang.” is not an acceptable response.

13. One of the questions I always ask myself is, if I had a twin who talked and acted exactly like me, how long would it take before I wanted her dead?

14.  It’s amazing how easily anyone can give off a completely psychotic vibe.  If you don’t believe me, next time you’re out walking in public, start swinging your arms in unison with your legs and see if people don’t look at you like you just stepped off the mothership.

(Disclaimer: If any or all of the above statements made absolutely no sense to you, let’s just blame it on the fact that I was heavily medicated at the time and never speak of this post again. Deal?)

There’s No Place Like (a guilt-ridden) Home

I wanted to have a post ready for you about what I do during many of my waking hours here in Costa Rica (and no, contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t about this).  But as I was going through some of the pictures on my hard drive, I ran across some that slapped me with my first real dose of homesickness.

I snapped these just before we left for Costa Rica.

I think they knew I was leaving.

And their very demeanor made me feel bad about it.

You’d think they were raised Catholic or something.

The guilt was palpable.

Clearly, my mistake was taking photos of the moment.  Because now I have to admit how much I miss Mara’s mitten paws.

And Capone’s curly tail.

Looking at these now, I have to ask myself, were they trying to make me feel guilty on purpose?


Obviously I can’t be sure, but…

Yes, I do believe they were.

I’ll Take My Coffee… Mature.

We’ve been in Costa Rica for over a month now.  The halfway mark has come and gone, and every day it seems like someone finds a way to remind me of how soon we’ll be leaving.

And as that time gets closer, I find that I’m looking for something – anything – to prove to myself that all this has been worthwhile.  All the questions I’ve had to answer, all the explaining I’ve had to do, quitting my job, leaving my family…  What during this experience has changed in me for the better?

Well today, I’ve come up with the answer.

Remember how I used to drink my coffee?

Well look at me now, world.

Look at me now.

And yes, I can finally say that it’s definitely been worth it.

Now I Have One Less.

Yesterday at the grocery store we debated.  We held the familiar bottle of Bacardi Gold in one hand and the seemingly-exotic Cortez in the other and judged.

Do we go with what we know?  Our good ol’ communist friend Bacardi?  Or do we take a chance and opt for the not-too-expensive-but-not-the-bargain-but-practical-middle-of-the-road-local-flava?

Okay, so Cortez isn’t local.  The bottle says, “Ron superior de Panama.”  So it’s rum from Panama?  My Spanish is already improving.  Go me.

But the bottle is in Spanish, which makes it seem a bit more authentic, no?  And while we can’t hide my pasty white thighs or Erin’s bright auburn hair in this town, we can certainly try to drink like the locals.

Cortez Rum

Or at least that was our reasoning at 7:07 last night.

But today?

Today I know I can most definitely not drink like the locals.

I think the Avett Brothers said it best:

When I drink…
I spend the next morning in a haze…
But we only get so many daaaays
Now I have one less.

Damn.

Backup Plan

The state of Washington – at least the western side – is, in my humble opinion, one of the most beautiful states in the U.S.  In Seattle you can immerse yourself in hues of green you thought existed only in paintings or heavily-photoshopped photographs.  There’s a reason they call it the Emerald City.

Have I mentioned green is my favorite color?

But of course on the flipside, there’s the rain.  It’s the blessing/curse that makes all the verdant beauty possible but, when preempted with continuous overcast, dull gray skies, can start to drag you down after awhile.

So far in this Costa Rica rainy season we’ve been very lucky.  It rains almost every afternoon, but that follows at least 5 or 6 hours of heavenly sunshine.  Except for the last 3 days.  Three days of clouds.  And it’s all thanks to Hurricane Matthew which, according to weatherstreet.com, is apparently heading toward Central America in a hurry.

In honor of our very own Hurricane Matthew, Jota (remember those guys?) put together a little something special.

Hurricane Matthew

At least the real hurricane is staying pretty far north of Costa Rica.

But anyway, the rain is fitting because someone left us this week – someone we will miss dearly.  And even though she left us for a better place – an island off the coast of Florida, to be exact – I think the significance of the fact that we’re not going to see her again before we leave here is only just now starting to sink in.

Judy

Meet our “host mother,” Judy.  We’re staying in Judy and her husband Gifford’s beautiful home while we’re here, and Judy has been one of the most gracious hostesses I’ve ever had the pleasure of mooching off of – err… staying with.

From her homemade hummus to her vastly better-than-mine beans ‘n rice, Judy has spoiled us rotten over the last 4 weeks sharing her delicious food, vast knowledge of holistic healing, exceedingly comfortable diggs, and, best of all, the pleasure of her company.

Erin and I imagined we’d one day have to share a tearful goodbye with someone on whom we’ve come to lean and ask for guidance, but we never, ever, ever imagined that she’d be the one to leave us!  The news came as a bit of a surprise and, as with all great relationships that eventually come to an end due to insurmountable circumstances, it might take us a little while to get over this one.

But we do have plenty to keep us busy.  With Hurricane Matthew spoiling our beach plans for the weekend, our friend Carla will be giving us some rainy-day cooking lessons.

Carla

We were too shortsighted to take advantage of that with Judy while she was here, and we don’t intend to make the same mistake with Carla.  Her “Tico food” is out of this world delicious, so stay tuned for some peeks at how she intends to fatten us up this weekend.

PB and WHAT?

Hold onto your hats, people, because the good folks at Valrico Peanut Butter are revolutionizing everything you thought you knew about optimizing your peanut butter enjoyment:

For children and adults, you say?

On bread or crackers?

Mixed with jam or even jelly?

Get out of town.

Thank  you, Valrico Peanut Butter, for opening our eyes to a world of new and exciting flavors.

Now go forth and spread the Gospel, people.

Eight-Legged Freaks

Allow me to state for the record that I am not a fan of spiders.

In fact, I am the exact opposite of being a fan of spiders.

In fact, on the list of things that bum me out, spiders rank somewhere between being eaten alive by polar bears and a nuclear holocaust.

Everything about them–from their beady eyes to their spindly, hairy legs–seems sinister and malevolent and completely unworthy of my compassion.

Mind you, I am not this way about most of God’s less fluffy creations.

Snakes?  No problem.

Lizards?  Let’s dance.

Bats?  Bring ‘em on.

But spiders?

Let me put it this way:  If I had my choice of being hit in the face repeatedly with a shovel or having a Daddy Long Legs crawl on my arm, I’d go ahead and pop some Extra Strength Excedrin and clear my schedule for the next week or so.

So, it’s cosmically fitting that this would appear in our bathroom this weekend:

Allow me to reiterate: THIS…

…IS LIVING IN OUR BATHROOM.

It found itself a nice little vantage point on the ceiling above our shower Sunday morning and, since Katie and I each have a strict No Contact policy when it comes to icky things (and have been so far unsuccessful in convincing the other to amend hers), has been leering at us from up there for two whole days now.

Look, I’m fully aware that spiders are part of the Great Circle of Life or whatever, but if this is Nature’s attempt to teach me some integral lesson on how to peacefully coexist with my eight-legged brethren, it was a poor location choice because, sorry, but I find it a tad hard to sympathize with the plight of something that has seen me in all my naked, vulnerable, soaking wet glory.

This will not do.  If it’s still there after work today, decisions will need to be made.  Strategies devised.  Perimeters secured.  Attacks mounted.

And I wish Katie all the best with that.

Tonight, I’ll be sleeping at the office.