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.