Once again, this blog has been neglected for way, way, way, too long. It'd been a crazy few months, in the best and worst way, but I'm finally catching up. In one super long mini-slideshow.
The biggest time lapse was due to a month in beautiful Costa Rica. Travel books and blogs claimed it'd be boring eats... but we found endless culinary inspiration with the unique, fresh, and cheap produce. If only we had produce trucks driving down our road daily in Ann Arbor (selling produce for small change)... it'd be so much easier to eat fresh and healthy.
The majority of our trip was spent in Puerto Viejo - a chill "hippie" town with a lot of expatriates and international food. And endless Vegetarian/Vegan options. I've never travelled internationally and had so many choices!
We rented a cabina for the month south of town ; so we cooked at least a meal a day in our small, simple, outdoor kitchen. I couldn't have been happier: cooking, in the tropics, with fresh air (with palm trees and sunshine) everywhere. It's amazing how much you can make with just two burners, two pans, and one knife. I have a new appreciation for my "apartment size" stove! The coolest part was the "back to nature" philosophy of kitchen waste: it's easy to compost when you throw scraps right over the edge.
The first two weeks I travelled with Molly - one of my closest friends, who's Vegan and a blast to cook with. We both live by the "wing it" strategy, love hot sauce (especially the spicy green Jalapeno sauce we found there), and are willing to try most anything. It's so fun to cook with someone who isn't even a little picky. Our first experiment? Plantain Tacos - which turned out to be delicious comfort food. Plantains are a huge staple in CR, and I pretty much LOVE them. Plantain chips were a favorite snack, and we even encountered a Plantain Empanada (even if it was bright red with artificial coloring).
Within our first few hours in town, we met some new friends from PA (below) - Marta, Greg, and Katie. They were "Foodies" like us, so we had a few fun meals (and lots of inspired cooking conversation) while they were around.
The first new thing I learned to cook in CR was Twice Fried Plantanos, which our new friends seemed to be pros at. I guess everyone cooks plantains in the states but me! The trick is to use soft, ripe plantains - cutting them into almost 1" slices. You fry them once until they are crispy and soften up, then fry the other half of the batch. You then return the first batch to the frying pan to "smash them" flatter to fry the sides. YUM! (See also: having only one pan reaffirmed my love for cast iron.)
The produce in CR was amazing, and the fruit was the freshest I've EVER tasted. Our dreams of eating fruit and doing yoga all day didn't quite happen, but we did manage to knock out at least 20 Philosopher's Notes our first two weeks. And it was the perfect relaxing sanctuary to do it! (Especially with 50 cent, just-picked pineapple.)
All our produce wasn't right off the truck. There was a large amount of time spent harvesting fresh coconuts as well! This isn't the mature brown coconuts you find in the states, this is (huge) green young coconuts, filled with sweet refreshing (and electrolyte rich) coconut water. And the "meat" was in between the ripeness of green (soft, clear jelly) and brown (hard, sweet solid) - a surprisingly delicious treat.
Molly learned her technique from a local, and made it her mission to harvest as many fresh coconuts as physically possible.
I watched, and helped to carry all these goodies. Wikipedia is definitely wrong about mature coconuts weighing 3 lbs - these guys were much heavier than that. Even if I am a wimp. And it turns out up to 150 people a year die from falling coconuts (surpassing shark attacks)!
My little brother joined the trip for the last two weeks of the travels, and turned out to be a good sport with the new foods we experienced. Brett quickly joined the coconut challenge, and got the best tasting coconut we had all month.
There were a lot of mystery fruits and vegetables in Costa Rica - like this Superfruit cousin of the Mangosteen that tasted JUST like peanut butter and jelly. Seriously.
Our our first roadside purchase - that was like a apple/pear hybrid. Much less sweet and a bit watery, but refreshing in the hot hot heat.
Juicing and fruit smoothies are HUGE in Costa Rica - especially in the health food restaurants in Puerto Viejo. Known as Batidos (just like in Cuba), every spot in town had them. They were available with your choice of fresh fruit, and water or milk - and always fantastic.
Our first experience with these were at Veronica's, a Vegan restaurant with fantastic fresh juices. My constant favorite was Cucumber Juice: not too sweet and totally hydrating.
Their food was equally impressive - like this Vegan Casado (the Costa Rican staple meal of salad, rice and beans, plantains, and "meat" of choice). They served it with Coconut Rice & Beans and Carrot Tarts. I have no idea what delicious ingredients went into these, but they were unlike anything I've had. Shredded carrot and local root vegetables were shaped into a patty with Caribbean spices!)
On a future visit, Brett had the best Mango Batido. I'm rarely a fan of juice or sweet drinks (unless they are cocktails), but Costa Rica's Batidos won me over. At the cute cafe next door to our place, they made a Hibiscus Batido with fresh ginger that might have been the best juice I've ever, ever tasted. Add a juicer (and a Hibiscus tree) to my wish list - Hibiscus is now my favorite tea AND juice.
There was another fabulous Vegetarian spot we discovered near our place, La Botanica Organica. This place was basically my dream come true: a health food cafe AND small store. They had a great variety of local and Organic body care products, plus an awesome (and inspirational) holistic book collection.
And their food was also delicious and fresh (and also all local/Organic). We had an amazing brunch there, along with a Rice Milk Batido. It felt like being in Ann Arbor. (Puerto Viejo may have had even more Vegan options than back home, which was really cool!)
Our other staple food item were pitas from a local restaurant, Pita Bonita. We first sampled them with an amazing veggie/pesto pita sandwich from Om Cafe - and these were hands down the best pitas I've ever eaten. Ever.
For days and days, we found ways to make cute pita sandwiches with local veggies and our assortment of spices. Fresh basil, caramelized onions, homemade veggie burgers. Yes, we even made veggie burgers. (Not-so-secret ingredients: Plantain chips, Yucca chips, TVP, onions, hot sauce.)
Did I mention Pita Bonita's amazing food? Probably the best meal I had during my month there, their Middle Eastern specialties were mouth watering. I'm dying to learn how to make their Moroccan Eggplant.
Last but not least of the Latin favorites was Mango Salad. Made with julienned Mangoes that weren't quite ripe - they added salt, pepper, vinegar, hot sauce, and lime for an awesome summer-ready twist. (One of the only veg-friendly finds in the Capital of San José!) Now I have some inspiration next time Mangoes are on sale and I over buy!
There were a lot of other wonderful things going on in Costa Rica, besides cooking and eating. But the beach in our backyard, rainforest hikes, volcano-watching, bike riding, and Caribbean Sea swimming daily life there just didn't fit this blog as well!
"Pura Vida" is the motto for Costa Rica, and who doesn't want to live the "good life"? Here's to a wonderful last few weeks of summer. Hoping it's nothing but "good" for all of you!