Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Back from the Rica

soon after this shot, we hiked down to the bottom of this waterfall for a swim...

Forty-three mosquito bites and about as many cups of cafe con leche later, I'm back in the states. In the last 10 days, I've seen an active volcano, hiked to two waterfalls, visited three national parks -- one via 5 am canoe ride, zipped across the cloud forest on a cable 150 feet off the ground, encountered countless fascinating characters, laid on beaches of both white sand and black, dipped my toes in both the Pacific and the Caribbean. I've seen iguanas, sloths, monkeys, toucans, turtles, porcupines, sloths, tarantulas, frogs, lizards, geckos, chickens, cows, bats, river otters, caimans, parrots, hummingbirds, coatis, and agoutis (real life ROUSes!). I witnessed my traveling companion getting bitten by a monkey, then helped him track down the requisite inoculations in a tiny Caribbean beach town. I've learned a lot about Costa Rica: a magical country where national priorities lean towards peace and the concerted effort to protect the nation's lush environment; where the lack of a military force opens up funds for education, and where the life expectancy surpasses our in here in the states.


I've eaten rice and beans laced with coconut milk and seafood bathed in luscious coconut sauce, drank cocktails out of coconuts, laid in the shade of coconut trees, and awoke abruptly to the roof of my cabina being pelted with coconuts knocked off the tree on a windy, rainy night. Savored bananas soaked in rum, creamy guanabana straight from the tree, swoony strawberry-pineapple pie, luscious batidos that seduce you into going for seconds, and fried plantains effortless bridging the gap between sweet and savory.

frutas del caribe

Costa Rica was a trip. There are many stories, and even a recipe or two to share. Be sure to check back for more!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Off to the Rica

Friends, I'm really excited to report that barring unforeseen circumstances, I will be flying out to Costa Rica late tonight. There were various changes in plans to get to the specific trip I'm taking -- some good, some bad -- but regardless, I couldn't be more excited. So, I'll be a little lax on the bloggery for a bit (how is that news?), but I will come back with stories and pictures of cloud forests, beach hammocks, coffee perfection, and exotic fruits -- lush tropical goodness in every form. Excitingtimes!

[thanks to neilio for the gorgeous photo]

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Coast Highway Holiday

There are a million places this post could begin. The trip to Paris that didn't happen. The appeal to friends that reminded me, yet again, what a wide range of truly interesting people I'm lucky to know. Then again, it could just as well start in a dorm room on the sixth floor of Dykstra Hall on an otherwise uneventful night in 1996, when, from the room next door, an unfamiliar voice authoritatively yelled out the answer to my question of how many cups is a stick of butter. It's not unusual for me to get mired in options (maybe this is why it's taken me so long to post this damn thing!).

But I'll get to the point. My winter holiday was everything a vacation should be: a restful break enjoying perfect California Christmastime weather with best friends, close family (peppered with a few choice solo moments), and what seems like an unfair amount of laughter. And through all this, I somehow managed to trace the contour of the California coast: the 'big trip' consisted of four days in sweet, cozy Cambria, including a drive up Highway 1 through Big Sur to Monterey, then back through Salinas, home of both John Steinbeck and the best cornbread I've ever had (Seriously amazing stuff. I got a full order for dessert). I came home just in time to drive down to Laguna Beach (delicious dinner party that culminated with the whole house crammed in one room dancing to their own karaoke-ing voices, then beach walk, art gallery, and Zinc Cafe -- really, doesn't suck), then a few days later piled into the car with the parents, the sister, the brother-in-law, and three kiddies, for a day at the Santa Barbara Zoo. It was like a week-and-a-half-long game of peek-a-boo with the Pacific ocean!

But, let's focus on the Cambria part, shall we? So, for as long as I've known my friend Brad (eleven years and counting...aww), I've heard stories about his idyllic youth in the small coastal town. Thanks to his generous invitation, and his darling mom's kind hospitality, Rachel -- another close college friend -- and I spent a few days in his childhood home, hanging out with his mom and sister and having a grand old time. It turns out that Brad's family is a self-contained comedy act: whether we were taking walks through the bluffs overlooking the beach, rolling from winery to winery , opening 'presents' on Christmas morning (Which lucky one did Santa leave a stick of gum for? Who got the bottle of Excedrin?!), or just lounging on the couch, indulgently poring through back issues of Sunset Magazine, we were cracking up the whole time. Who needs expensive spas and retreats? For true relaxation, all you need is a laughing vacation.

We also learned that Brad and his family know every single person in Cambria. From every waiter at cozy Robin's restaurant, to the mailman at the Cambria Pines Lodge -- home of the town's only bar -- everyone is on a first-name, how's-the-family, basis. In fact, when we visited Main Street Grill, the setting of many of Brad's stories of his formative first job (for which I am personally thankful: after all, it is here that he learned the skills that led to my first, glorious encounter with barbecued beef ribs, on the rickety balcony of a dingy college apartment so many summers ago), Brad was so busy schmoozing we hardly saw him at the table.

It was fun to learn a bit about Brad's history: his mom told us stories of her youth in Illinois (how's this math: 2 parents + 6 kids + 2 pies = 1/4 pie per person), and how the family made its way to the west coast. She must have been tickled to be spending her Christmas vacation wowing two Jewish girls from the city with tales from the hog farm -- 4-H and all. And Brad was more than happy to share his more recent past with us -- by way of walking around in his Letterman jacket, along with the biggest grin I've ever seen.

We even managed to fit in some excursions: an afternoon in downtown San Luis Obispo offered a trip to the city's eponymous mission and to the local art gallery, with its awesome exhibit of photos of California's migrant workers. We even made it to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Good lord those otters are cute! One was obsessed with grooming her face and kept smooshing it into adorable expressions.

It's kind of a unique phenomenon: you've heard so much about a place, and the people in it over so many years that it nearly becomes part of your own story. Cambria has long been a member of our circle of friends. Nice to finally spend some quality time.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Tehran Memories on the Lower East Side

Not 10 minutes after extolling the virtues of the New York Times to my parents tonight did I come across this simple but lovely story from the Dining section, about an Iranian woman who visits her grown kids in the city every couple months to stock up their pantries and cook, cook, cook. I've been noticing lately that Iranian culture is becoming more familiar than ever in the American mainstream, and here's one more example. Our government may be doing all it can to vilify Iran these days, but when it comes to the warmth of the nation's people, the proof is in a mother's lovingly prepared ghormeh sabzi.