Monday, August 26, 2013

Back to Blogging

It’s been awhile. And, since today is my first day of classes, it may seem like a very strange time to post again, but sometimes I need to escape to my own little perfect world of food, especially comforting, tasty food that has good memories associated with it. This is especially the kind of escape needed from a non-stop busy day of seeing long-lost friends (it has been over 8 months since I have seen some of them), reading too many syllabi, vacillating between excitement and anxiety over new courses and their associated work, and sending about a million e-mails. My tiny kitchen and lack of a food processor, cookie sheet (mine wouldn’t fit in our microscopic, slightly-larger-than-an-Easy-Bake-Oven oven), and mixer also makes me a little anxious. But, this blog reminds me of delicious homemade food that I made last week and the loved ones that helped me eat it, namely my parents and Jerry.


Because I “borrowed” Jerry’s pizza stone for a pizza party and the subsequent two weeks, I thought I may as well try to take advantage of having it. Since, I hadn’t made an actual loaf of bread in a while, I decided to venture into the “hearth breads” section of my Peter Reinhart Whole Grain Breads book. This was new territory for me; the recipes in this chapter required not only a pizza stone but also a steam pan. This entails placing a pan filled with several inches of water on the oven rack above the pizza stone. The steam created from the water poured in the very hot oven creates steam and therefore more of a distinction between “crust” and “crumb” (Bread is so fascinating, there is always more to learn!).


After the initial nervousness of spilling the water either in the oven and creating a steamy, possibly dangerous mess or spilling it on the oven door window the book warned which can cause shattering wore off, I worked up the courage to just pour the water in and slide the bread onto the pan. After a 40 minute bake in the steamy oven, several hours of waiting for it to cool and for my parents to come home, and taking a million pictures of it, I sunk my serrated knife into the bread. I was happily surprised to find a contrast between the crust and the interior of the bread. It wasn’t nearly perfect, but I was pleased with it and was able to enjoy a delicious homemade appetizer (accompanied by basil olive oil) with my parents.


I also got this crazy notion that since I was near the Whole Foods in Winston last Wednesday, I should get hazelnuts and make this recipe from Chocolate Covered Katie. I had been salivating over the recipe ever since I first saw it and it didn’t disappoint. It tastes more wholesome and less sugary than Nutella but is certainly a refreshing change. It seemed that my new Nutella-like spread and hearth baked bread were destined for each other in a sweet breakfast with a cold glass of almond milk. It was a comforting, and seemingly indulgent, way to start the day.

The bread is sadly long gone, used for dipping and for toasting, but I can only hope I have the good sense to ration out my “Nutella,” as a breakfast staple with bread or oatmeal, an easy snack with pretzels, or or an end of the day comfort in this time of readjustment and transition.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

My Favorites, Part III

Favorite Cooking Shows:

Technique: Barefoot Contessa- Ina Garten is an entertaining goddess. I think that everyone who watches her show at least subconsciously wishes they were distantly related to Ina or one of her posh friends. She makes fairly simple but elegant and always delicious recipes. Her tzatziki, granola, and sticky buns have never steered me wrong.

Kelsey’s Essentials- Kelsey is so personable and has a sunny disposition. Her recipes are fairly basic and I like how she breaks down all the ingredients and equipment necessary. You can learn both technique and about her life from the show.

Competition: Chopped- 1 mystery basket, 4 ingredients, 4 chefs that all want to win $10,000, and a short time period to make an appetizer, entrée, or dessert. What could be more gripping? The addition of the witty host Ted Allen and knowledgeable but sometimes harsh judges, check.

Iron Chef- The host, the Chairman is always a delight to watch. And, the secret ingredient which all of the dishes have to highlight is always interesting. My favorite chef to cheer for is Michael Symon, although all of the Iron Chefs are very talented.

Top Chef- There is more reality show drama in this competition but the mini-showdowns and competitions are very entertaining. I also really like Padma and Gail, host and judge of the show.

Favorite Cookbook: Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads is without a doubt my favorite cookbook. I have made it a personal goal of mine to bake my way through the book, trying everything from bagels (success) to breads with foreign names that I have never heard of.

Ingredients I Swear By: Local Eggs (preferably straight from someone’s backyard), Ghirardelli Baking Chips 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate (there is nothing wrong with eating them straight out of the bag), King Arthur flour (unbleached all-purpose, whole wheat, or white whole wheat), and most items from the farmer’s market

My Favorite Kitchen Tool: My KitchenAid Mixer


Isn’t she (the mixer) beautiful in that stunning cornflower blue?

Runner-Ups: Cuisinart Food Processor, Garlic Press

That officially wraps up the series of  my favorite food-related things. I promise I will start including more pictures and recipes in posts. I am ashamed that I have hardly taken any pictures since Costa Rica, but I am working on curing my picture burn-out.

Monday, July 1, 2013

RIP Google Reader (aka My Favorite Food Websites)

My name is Sarah and I am addicted to reading food blogs.

There, I admitted my addiction. Those of you that know me best know the sadness and betrayal I felt when I heard that Google Reader was shutting down (How can you do this to me, Google?). I am still trying to find the best alternative to replace my beloved Google Reader but honestly a little break from reading food blogs might not be so bad and might even build some character (don’t all things that you really don’t want to do but know you should?). Nonetheless, I will get to the actual blogs that provide me such enjoyment.

My Favorite Blogs:

Peanut Butter Runner- yoga, fitness, and a mixture of healthy and decadent recipes makes this one of my favorite food blogs. Also, Jen is from Charlotte so I know many of the restaurants she talks about.

How Sweet It Is- over the top recipes are matched by an over the top personality in this blog. But, I can totally relate to Jessica’s obsession with Boy Meets World and not feeling like a grown up. Read this one to have fun.

Joy the Baker- beautiful pictures and well-crafted stories compliment the wonderful recipes that Joy crafts. I have probably tried the most recipes from this blog of all the blogs I read and I have never been disappointed.

Girl versus Dough- at first this blog was all about a girl exploring the mysteries and delights of yeast. Now, the blog has a broader scope but still is very interesting to read and to my delight yeast resurfaces occasionally.

A Pastry Affair- a blog with an artsy feel and a thoughtful quote to go with each recipe posted. The perspective of a young woman who has actually worked at a bakery is unique and she also hits on deep, very real emotions connected with the food she has made.

Willow Bird Baking- a fellow Davidson student is the author behind this blog. She does a wonderful job of telling a story and tying it back to a decadent dessert. I also just love her personality and the kindness that comes through in person as well as on her blog.

The Amateur Gourmet- read this blog for comic effect or for good how-tos. He freely admits to being amateur and writes simple-to-follow recipes, both of which are good for the rest of us amateurs out here.

Chocolate Covered Katie- this healthy, vegan dessert blog will surpass your expectations created by  that crazy combination of words (healthy + vegan + dessert). I have made several recipes from this blog before and successfully sampled them on unknowing friends (mug cakes and black bean brownies- both amazing!).

Other Fun Food Websites:

Serious Eats (especially the Sweets section): I love this website! It has sections for different cities, and food topics (i.e. pizza, sweets, burgers). The writing and photography are also top-notch with significant humor; I also feel like I really know the main contributors from their personal style reflected in posts/articles.

Healthy Aperture- my favorite “food porn” website. I think I could stay on this site for hours. New pictures with linked recipes are posted daily. Everything is somewhat healthy but also beautiful and, from my experience, tasty.

The Kitchn- an all around amazing food website plus so much more. The recipes are wonderful but the how-tos, recommended products, and food news pieces are just as good. Bonus: its sister site, Apartment Therapy, is all about the home, including decorating, DIY, and interesting products.

Food Network- Ina’s recipes are on there, enough said. But, for those of us who watch lots of Food Network, it is a great repository of all those recipes that we see chefs cook on TV and then want to try to replicate.

My next post will be my last and will include everything else I can think for which I can give my meaningless stamp of approval, including television shows and some food.

As a final note, I just made these whole wheat buttermilk biscuits. They were my first totally successful batch of biscuits; now I am a true Southern lady (we’ll just overlook the omission of lard/Crisco and white flour for the time being)!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

My Favorite Food Literature


-Michael Pollan: An Omnivore’s Dilemma, Food Rules, and In Defense of Food
-A Thousand Days in Venice: An Unexpected Romance by Marlena de Blasi
-Best Food Writing of 2009, edited by Holly Hughes
-In Search of a Perfect Meal by Anthony Bourdain
-Julie and Julia by Julie Powell
-My Life in France by Julia Child
-A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table by Molly Wizenburg
-Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

About to Read

Food Rebels, Guerrilla Gardeners, and Smart-Cookin’ Mamas by Mark Winne

My Reading List

  • Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson
  • Cooked by Michael Pollan
  • Chocolat by Joanne Harris
  • The Man Who Ate Everything by Jeffrey Steingarten
  • Watching What We Eat: The Evolution of Television Cooking Shows by Kathleen Collins
  • Fear of Food: A History of Why We Worry About What We Eat by Harvey Levenstein
  • Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser
  • The Physiology of Taste by Jean Brillat-Savarin


Cooking Light is my favorite. I don’t make any recipe just because it looks easy; if so, I wouldn’t have spent hours making cinnamon rolls and waking up at 4 am to start their last rise. But, the recipes in Cooking Light seem doable and are dishes that I want to eat, elegant but not fussy, are made with whole, fresh foods, and and have some consideration for health. I also love their feature stories which incorporate the culture of food, how it shapes our lives, and some humor (one story was about a passionate home cook testing some of the hardest cookbook recipes from the top-rated chefs in the world).

My close seconds are Bon Appetit and Food Network Magazine. Let’s face it, these magazines also bring a smile to my face on that glorious day when they are delivered to my mailbox. I get seriously antsy if it is that time of the month and I haven’t gotten one yet. These two are very different but I enjoy reading them both nonetheless. I admittedly have not tried many recipes from either of these magazines, but the artsy pictures in Bon Appetit and hint of the exotic will keep me reading while the random food facts and familiar chef faces fuel my love for Food Network Magazine.

Edible Charlotte has become another one of my favorite magazines. The best part is that it is free; but, that also means that I have to scavenge at my local health food store or farmer’s market to find a copy. The reward is worth the trouble to obtain a copy. This month the Mediterranean-inspired and raw recipes caught my eye but the spotlights on local farmers and chefs also make the magazine a must-read for Charlotteans.

Next up will be my favorite cookbooks and then I will end with my favorite food websites.

Monday, May 27, 2013

A return to food blogging

I have officially returned home, safe and sound from Costa Rica. I think I have finally gotten adjusted to life in the U.S. again after 18 days of furious baking (bagels, granola, cinnamon rolls, red velvet cake, black bean brownies…), serious napping, a little bit of cleaning, a lot of bumming out at home, not enough catching up with friends and family, and hard-core food magazine reading and Food Network viewing (sometimes at the same time). Things that seemed strange at first: throwing my toilet paper in the toilet (it goes in the trash can in Costa Rica), hot showers (strange in a good way, trust me), not having rice and beans served at every meal, not being surrounded by the beautiful scenery of Costa Rica, and being apart from my SFS family.

But as far as food goes, I am definitely glad to be back. Now I have control of what I eat and can cook my own food. Plus, food in America is generally better; in Costa Rica, all desserts are insanely sweet (and this is coming from someone who has built up a very high tolerance for sweets) and most savory things are either fried or involve gallo pinto (rice and beans). I am obviously so fortunate to have studied abroad in Costa Rica, but after a while the already bland cuisine gets mundane.

So, here is my first post back to just food blogging from the U.S. I hope you will keep reading, or will start if you haven’t stayed up to date on my travels.

I think to kick off the summer I am going to do a series of superlative posts, including my favorite food-related quotes, books, and more.  On to post #1….


As a cook, tastes and smells are my memories, and I'm in search of some new ones. So I'm leaving New York and hoping to have a few epiphanies around the world. I'm looking for extremes of emotion and experience. I'll try anything. I'll risk everything. I have nothing to lose." –Anthony Bourdain

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“This is the product that everyone in the world eats, that is so difficult to give up. It’s so deeply embedded in our psyches that bread is used as a symbol for life.”
-Peter Reinhardt



“The smell of good bread baking, like the sound of lightly flowing water, is indescribable in its evocation of innocence and delight...

[Breadmaking is] one of those almost hypnotic businesses, like a dance from some ancient ceremony. It leaves you filled with one of the world's sweetest smells... there is no chiropractic treatment, no Yoga exercise, no hour of meditation in a music-throbbing chapel. that will leave you emptier of bad thoughts than this homely ceremony of making bread.”
-MFK Fisher



"Your fate is like a new jar of peanut butter. It may be sealed, but you can choose whether it is smooth or crunchy."
-Jarod Kintz



I am still collecting more food quotes, especially as I read more food books and blogs. Do you have any favorite quotes about food?

Next I will compile a list of my favorite food books.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Lessons Learned in Costa Rica

As I  prepare to leave Costa Rica on Thursday, leaving the comfort of SFS (“The Compound” as we affectionately call it) at 3:30 in the morning, I have been reflecting back over my experience here. First of all, thank you for reading about my time here. I blog for me; it helps me process things and I like to share my thoughts with anyone who might be interested. But, it is even better to blog knowing that people you love and that are several thousand miles away are reading. So, thanks! Second, this will be my last post from Costa Rica. Tomorrow and Tuesday, we have Directed Research presentations and lots of wrap-up activities. Wednesday will probably be crazy with final preparations and such. Then, Thursday I arrive in North Carolina at 4:17 pm.

In light of this big change, I wanted to write about what I learned during these really meaningful three months. Warning: there are probably so many things I am leaving out but this is my best attempt at summing up the semester.

I don’t have to plan everything, sometimes the best things are serendipitous. Some examples include finding a hotel in Manuel Antonio which turned out to be perfect, our whole time in La Fortuna, and an unplanned but amazing Lord of the Rings marathon.



I need alone time to reflect on the day, to think and just be with own thoughts; journaling daily has really helped me with this.

Costa Rica is wonderful but I also need to get know the United States better. I have been to more national parks in Costa Rica than the US and I have lived there for 21 years; also, there are many places that I want to go and things I want to see. Traveling with friends/family is definitely a priority. At the top of the list are: New Orleans, Seattle, and the Northeast (Boston, Maine, and all of my SFS friends in the vicinity).IMG_4703

Me at Volcán Mombacho, my favorite volcano we visited

Mangoes are pretty good, ripe and unripe….. until their sap gives you a rash (akin to poison ivy).

I can eat beans; they are still not my favorite and I don’t eat them without hot sauce and/or Lizano sauce, but I can eat them and sometimes enjoy it.


A typical breakfast of gallo pinto (with natilla, similar to sour cream), fried plantains, and tortillas with cheese


The sunset on Ometeppe Island

Yoga brings me a sense of peace and generally adds to my quality of life. One of our leaders led a yoga class that helped keep me sane and in shape. She was also such a peaceful presence and I am glad that I was able to spend that time with her.


At Finca Magdalena, a good view of Volcán Concepción

Walking and running are my pura vida times; everyone needs their own pura vida time. (Pura vida is the Costa Rican equivalent to the Southern saying of “stopping to smell the roses,” basically taking your time and enjoying life.)


At the trapiche in El Sur, making tapa de miel (a sweetener made from sugar cane)

Living in a different country with a unique culture is one of the biggest learning experiences you can have; the culture/language barrier has made me feel:

-like an utter fool: that time when I asked for soup to wash my clothes in at the local convenience store and got a very strange look (sopa= soup, jabon= soap)

-frustrated: when I couldn’t express my thoughts in Spanish

-uncomfortable: at my homestay, eating the most rich food and in such abundance that I thought I would have to fast for a few days, or when sketchy Costa Rica men tried to strike up conversations at El Sports Bar

-at home: relating to my host family about the everyday things dear to our hearts like family and food

-gratified: speaking to locals like taxi drivers and tour guides and learning firsthand about the culture (I surprisingly even got a few compliments on my Spanish)

-stretched: on those days when I really wanted a hot shower, my own bed with crisp, clean sheets, the smell of whole wheat bread wafting through the air, and to be surrounded by the familiar faces of the people I love

Everyone that can, should study abroad for all of the above-mentioned reasons. It gives you a new outlook on life and makes you more culturally aware. Although it is cliché, you really do learn a lot about yourself through such an experience.


I really do like all four seasons like you find in North Carolina. Costa Rica has two distinct seasons, the rainy and the dry season. I have been here only for the dry season and the very first hints of the rainy season. There have been a lot of hot, dry days, especially for February, March, and April. I think I will be very ready for fall when it comes to NC.


I am independent; I always have been. I was that kid that wanted to do things for themselves. I wanted to make my own sandwich for lunch or go to summer camp by myself, assured that I would make friends and be ok. College has made me even more independent but being in another country, especially traveling on your own in a foreign country where you aren’t fluent in the language, will make you feel even more independent (especially when nothing seriously bad like muggings, injuries, assaults, etc. happens).


My friend Kelly and me on Ometeppe Island

Explore as much as possible, try as many new things as possible, spend as much time learning from others as possible, read as much as is politely possible, and go on facebook as little as possible.

Tapirs and red-eyed leaf frogs are unfortunately not very easy to spot in Costa Rica, especially in the dry season. These were the two animals that I REALLY wanted to see while here because they are both endemic to Costa Rica but they eluded me.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Directed Research in Monteverde

Directed Research was one of those concepts that was very abstract to me when I first learned it was a key component of SFS. It sounded like an amazing experience but I did not have a concept of what it actually would be when I signed up for this program. Would it be a completely independent project? If so, would I be ready for that? I don’t consider myself an expert in anything really. Or, would we have lots of direction? Also, I have found in my time at Davidson that research is not something that I am particularly good at or am passionate about; I have accepted that it is completely okay for me to be a biology major and not want to do research, it just rules out some career paths which is something I have a hard time choosing.


The hummingbird garden at Selvatura, one of our sampling sites

Because of my lack of expectations, I was pleasantly surprised by the research options we were given. Working with professors in their area of expertise was a unique opportunity. Our Directed Research counts as a whole 4-credit class crammed into less than a month, so it is pretty intense; Directed Research consists of a week of preparations which included meetings and lectures, a week of field work, a week of data analysis and writing, and two days of presentations. Right now, I just turned in the first draft of my paper, fingers crossed! Obviously, the week of field work and data collection has been my favorite part. A few years ago, I never would have guessed that I would work with hummingbirds in Costa Rica, holding, measuring, swabbing pollen from, and learning about them. Nor could I have imagined how many different species of hummingbirds live in Costa Rica; around fifty species inhabit the country which makes North America, especially North Carolina, seem kind of lame in terms of hummingbird diversity. But, now I can easily tell the difference between a Green Violet-ear and a Coppery-headed Emerald, a Violet Sabrewing and a Purple-throated Mountain-gem, among others. I have to say that I think the Purple-throated Moutain-gem is my favorite! The males have beautiful purple throat and a iridescent blue spot on top of their head that you can only see if the light hits it just right. The females have an amber colored breast that is still beautiful although not as flashy as males. Also, these hummingbirds are petite and were very abundant at the places we sampled.


Photo courtesy of:

Photo courtesy of:

The week also provided lots of time for bonding with our group. I feel fortunate to have gotten to know some people far better than I did before. When you work with people catching and observing birds and riding around in a packed van for a week, you see their real personalities and get to share lots of laughs (especially from creating hummingbird jokes). Also, I played so many hands of Hearts and loved it. I also had some really good food, like fig with condensed milk ice cream from the Monteverde Creamery, a humongous banana and dulce de leche crepe, a Peruvian seafood and yucca dish, so many slices of the best pizza Costa Rica has to offer (at Tramonti in Monteverde/Santa Elena), and enough bean and avocado sandwiches to be sick of them by the end of the week.

Here are some of my favorite pictures from the week:


That’s my finger, with a Green-crowned Brilliant on it!



Left: we were obsessed with waiting for hummingbirds to land on our feeders, these were not shy around people, they would zip right past your head and after a while land on your finger if you were still enough. Right: we set up mist nets to capture hummingbirds and take morphological measurements of them. During our measurements, we had a few escape artists. G, our program director and DR supervisor, said that you have to treat hummingbirds like children and be firm but gentle.






Left: our data collection table; yes, it is a kid’s table that we bought in Monteverde because G forgot to pack a real table; right: Hannah and Hillary measuring a hummingbird’s wing length.

Directed Research ended up being a very memorable experience and I have learned so much more about not only hummingbirds but the research process in general.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Vamos a la Playa

Last weekend was our last weekend away. Being the last one of three, I think that everyone was a bit torn about where to go. For those of us going home right after the program, this was our last chance to see Costa Rica on our own and for everyone it was a last fling before Directed Research began. My group of friends decided to go to Manuel Antonio for my friend Lauren’s birthday. For most students, a requirement for destination was that it had to have a beach. Ours fit the bill, and had a national park with lots of monkey spottings to boot.

We set out for Manuel Antonio early on Saturday morning, arriving at the bus stop before 7 (although  I was sweating it, sometimes it is hard to get everyone out the door at such an early hour). I was a admittedly dragging because I had stayed up watching Lord of the Rings the night before as a part of our three movies, one day LOTR marathon (this isn’t a regular thing for us, but it was pretty epic). But, I was able to sleep away an hour of the bus ride and read or look at scenery for most of the rest. When we got there we literally didn’t have a game plan which made me nervous. But, we figured out the connecting bus to get Manuel Antonio and then wandered upon a very pretty, inexpensive hotel that had vacancy. I have definitely learned to be more relaxed about traveling while here. Also, the hotel offered Wifi, hot water, clean towels, and air conditioning which is about all that a student traveling in Costa Rica could want.


Hotel Almendros: left, the blue tiled pool; right, the rows of rooms

We went to the beach for the afternoon. The stretch of beach near where we stayed was very unique, it had nice sand but also lots of pebbles and small shells right along the shore. It started to rain around 2; afternoon rains are a regular occurrence during the wet season. We still stayed on the beach for a while though. I went back and took a shower and then napped in the cool room. Later, we went to a restaurant for warm beverages and birthday cake. The drinks were good but the cake was amazing! It was vanilla cake with a dulce de leche filling and lots of sugary colored icing. Lauren was not surprised (because we hauled the cake around for much of the day) but loved the cake nonetheless.


Lauren and Cynthia as we sang “Happy Birthday” to Lauren

That night, we went to dinner and then went out on the town because the birthday girl wanted to find a place to dance. We went to nearby Quepos, where there was much more nightlife than Manuel Antonio, and found a place called Republik, a Cuban disco-lounge. We danced for several hours; I will readily admit I am not a great dancer but it was fun to dance with my friends and the Costa Rican music was fun to listen to regardless. I crawled into bed around 2 or 2:30 which is very unusual for me. But, my old soul needs to branch out every once in a while.


The next day, my friend Elizabeth and I were eager to go to Manuel Antonio National Park. On the way to the park, we stopped a hostel with a sign out front advertising a big breakfast for $4. We figured it would be fast and cheap so decided to go for it. It surpassed my expectations! I had black tea, a pancake, watermelon, pineapple, a banana, gallo pinto, and eggs. All of it was actually good quality and the two plate breakfast was very filling.


We bought some snacks, including aloe water (a new favorite of mine), at the grocery store and then kept walking to the park. We paid the entrance fee and then started to walk to the main trails. We scanned all along the trail for animals; the park is known for sloth and monkey sightings. Some cool animals that we saw included a treeful of playful squirrel monkeys, a well-disguised green vine snake, clever white-faced capuchin monkeys, crab-eating raccoons, and some crabs. After we first saw the squirrel monkeys and watched them for fifteen minutes, I already knew that my ten dollars was money well spent. Squirrel monkeys are officially my favorite kind of monkeys.

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Left: a squirrel monkey in a tree that was full of about ten monkeys; right: a capuchin monkey laying on a limb

We followed cool, shady trails down to beaches that surrounded the park. We hiked to Playa Gamelas, Playa Manuel Antonio, and Playa Espadilla Sur. The beaches were beautiful and all unique; Playa Gamelas was rocky and hidden in a cove, Playa Manuel Antonio was sandy and the most crowded, and Playa Espadilla Sur had beautiful views of islands right off the coast. We spent our last hour in the park playing in the water and building a sandcastle.


Playa Gamelas


Elizabeth and I at Playa Gamelas in the national park


A map of the park

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Left: a view of the beach from the trail; right: snails on rocks lining the shore of the beach


A brightly colored crab on a tree

I just got back yesterday from a directed research trip to study hummingbirds in the Monteverde area, more on this soon!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Getting Some Culture in San Jose

San Jose, the capital city of Costa Rica. It is the historical and cultural center of Costa Rica. Therefore, when I was thinking about what I wanted from this day trip on the bus I wasn’t exactly sure but I knew I wanted to see the cultural and historical side of Costa Rica that I frankly hadn’t seen much of yet. I had seen no real Costa Rican art or music; only three movies have ever been produced in Costa Rica and I had been fortunate enough to watch one of those in Spanish class; the architecture didn’t really stand out in places I had visited; the food was good but didn’t seem embedded with history and tradition or even tons of flavor. Although I had been living here for over two months, I wanted to make sure that in my last month, I had gotten a true taste of what Costa Rica is.


The Artesans’ Market


La Avenida Central

Fast forward a few hours and I was sitting in the classiest Pizza Hut I have ever visited, in San Jose. It was about the last place I had imagined myself; but, I cannot say that begrudged the cheese personal pan pizza that I ordered. Also, I was with five of my closest friends here and we were simply sticking to our theme for the day, “Everyone gets what they want.” Lliterally everyone got to pick something that they really wanted to do and we did it. My request was to “get some culture” by visiting the Teatro Nacional and getting warm beverages/dessert there. My friend Lauren’s was to go to Pizza Hut; thus, we ended up at Pizza Hut and not having eaten pizza in two months, I have to say that enjoyed the reliably good pizza(certainly not spectacular, I will have to wait for Mellow Mushroom for my favorite).One of my other friends, Sarah D., had a burning desire to go to Subway for her lunch (Sarah S. shared this wish too). It was interesting to see how a Costa Rican Subway varied from a United States Subway; it looked basically the same but there were more exciting options like a seafood sub or gallo pinto for breakfast. Tori wanted to get her second holes and cartilage pierced. By the time we found the least sketchy piercing place, everyone else had decided they wanted piercings too, except for me and Lauren (she was scared of getting an infectious disease while I just didn’t have a desire to get another piercing). Unfortunately, Tori had to have one of her holes pierced twice to get it in the right place, but eventually everyone was happy with their new piercings. Sarah S. wanted to go shopping and we did lots of that; she even ended up with a leopard print romper. We strolled down the Avenida Central which was a pedestrian street (we didn’t have to worry about crazy Tico drivers thankfully) and stopped at clothing stores, shoe stores, and markets. I only got some last souvenirs (a patch for my backpack) and gummies from a store called Bee Sweet. The British candy store had every kind of gummy you could imagine; I bought frog, dolphin, egg, pepper (it actually had a hint of spice), and a slice of pizza gummies. All were delicious but I especially enjoyed the dolphin and frog. Louisa is very chill and didn’t really have a burning desire, although she jokingly said that it was for us all to get our tongues pierced.


Correo Central- the old Post Office Building

For what my wish, we walked to the Plaza de Cultura and were amazed by the regal Teatro Nacional. It is considered the most historical building in San Jose; its construction was finished in 1897 and there are still performances held there regularly. It starkly stood out from the stores in the vicinity and the plaza full of people. I was so excited to be there. The theater is a symbol of wealth from the time when the “coffee oligarchy”informally ruled Costa Rica’s political and social spheres. Going inside, it was very ornate; there were frescoes on the ceiling with angels and clouds. Beautiful marble statues of famous composers like Beethoven lined the lobby. Rather than paying to enter, we explored the lobby and spent just as much on dessert and drinks in the fancy café instead.


Left: the entrance to lobby of the theater; right: the fresco on the ceiling in the café featuring the Costa Rican flag


Left: queque zanahoria (carrot cake, with cream cheese frosting and slivered almonds); right: agua dulce con especias (sugar cane tea with spices)


Left: the café; right: Tori and Lauren sampling each other’s desserts


Sarah D. and Sarah S., it seems like the three Sarah’s always sit beside each other

I ordered the carrot cake and agua dulce  with spices (sugar cane tea). The carrot cake was really good, it was slightly less sweet but more spiced than the American version (I had already found this out though so my expectations were adjusted) and more like a quick bread than a cake. It also didn’t have as much icing because it was baked like a bundt cake. But, regardless, it was still very delicious with the cream cheese frosting and large shreds of carrot and lots of raisins. I definitely would order it again (although they also had some caramel mousse and tiramisu that I had my eye on); I also sampled a friend’s apple pie which was surprisingly good and served warm with ice cream. The agua dulce was less sweet than the last time I tried it (and I opted for the version without milk) but tasted akin to spiced cider. It was a nice complement to the cake. I think it has become obvious why we joked that we ate every hour (we also went to a café before lunch but I just can’t eat/drink tea all the time).


Gummies: dolphin, frog, pizza, egg, and chile pepper

We got back to the Center by 8 at night and it was nice to make a relaxing dinner and just hang out. Overall, it was a great girls’ day in San Jose. I couldn’t have asked for a better Saturday; it is always nice to be independent and just explore.