Category Archives: cheese

In Which I Give the McRib a Fair Shake

It’s fair to say that the McRib is almost universally reviled, isn’t it?

And there’s still a part of me that longs to fit in with the cool kids, so I am reluctant to admit this and presumably face public scorn (much like T said he would never volunteer to do the Volkswagen Shoot-Out at Madison Square Garden because he wouldn’t want to be booed by an arena full of Rangers fans). But, as I discovered on Consumerist, the Web makes people braver and/or meaner, so I suppose I can cower behind my laptop as I say this: I used to really like the McRib.

And whenever McDonald’s brings it back, jokes abound and I hold fast to my secret shame and pray no one asks, “Have you ever tried it?”

But it’s been YEARS…and I was admittedly curious whether my tastes had changed or if – horror of horrors – I still secretly liked the McRib.

And I wasn’t actually going to even *do* it until I came home from work the day after mentioning this fleeting thought and T said, “I have a surprise for you!”

So…I’ll say this – there are definitely worse things out there, even on the McDonald’s menu itself. (Namely, anything with American cheese and/or eggs. Like, say, an Egg McMuffin. Shudder.)

And, call me Snooki, but…I really liked the pickles – it could have been my imagination, but I think they were more substantial than the usual McD pickles.

I think the slab of meat is a little weird – especially for something that is supposed to emulate its namesake. And that hunk of faux rib meat may be what gets everyone in a tizzy. But, at the same time, I don’t think it’s all that much different – read: grosser — than the hamburger patties that everyone gobbles up – it’s just a slightly different shape. The texture’s comparable, folks.

And I don’t know if I agree with McDonald’s claim that it is “tangy temptation” – I don’t think it was particularly tangy…or even overly BBQy. It was almost – dare I say it — somewhat bland.

And it would have been a lot better if the onions had been, say, caramelized instead of served raw.

In short? I think the McRib gets an overly bad rap. It’s not the best sandwich on the menu…and it’s certainly not as good as, say, the Carl’s Jr. Western Bacon Cheeseburger…but, for those of us on the eastern half of the country, it may be as close as we get for now.

Image via DrPizza/Flickr

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Filed under cheese, eggs, pickles, Red Hook

My Fancy-Shuffling, Fake-OTBing, Hair-Scam-Avoiding, 33-Cent-Cheese-Meltdown-Witnessing, Old-Lady-Cursing Wednesday

Remember those commercials during the Olympics with the snowboarder that snowboarded right off into space while Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” played? Well…I wouldn’t call today a perfect day per se…but it was sort of strangely nice and/or memorable for a lot of little reasons:

1. I fake-gamble part-time to support myself now (…I had lunch with a friend from Martha last weekend and she said I should start a blog to debunk the myths of the New York freelance writer’s lifestyle — which sounds so glamorous! — but actually involves a lot of slapstick antics to make ends meet…) and I’ve felt that I can’t emerge from this experience without the ability to shuffle cards in a fancy way. I’ve always wanted to learn some card tricks…and I spend 18 hours a week with 416 cards now, so mastering the Fancy Shuffle (…which I Googled! And learned is called the Bridge Shuffle! And, I gotta hand it to SuperCardKid — he explains it really well…) seemed like a totally reasonable goal. And…it’s a very high-tech table that we play on and sometimes it dies and we have downtime…which is what happened today. So…I decided today was the day I was going to crack the Fancy Shuffle…and I did! I mean, I’m a long way from impressing anyone…but I at least figured out how to shift my hands to make the cards fall back in on one another after I’ve shuffled them. (Before long, people will totally be coming to my apartment for Poker Night…)

2. Some of my comrades at the fake-gambling place like to really gamble…and, like I said, we were twiddling our thumbs this PM…and one of them had one of those OTB horse guides? And we were looking at the horse names and I saw one called “Im a Mosaic Rockstar” and said, “That’s it. That’s the horse I would bet on…” and — guess what — the horse I picked totally WON. So…the real gambler then asked what horses I liked in the next race…and three names popped out at me, but I only remember two: Downtown Hottie and Lady Gracenote. And I believe my fellow fake-gambler actually *put* $6 on these choices. And part of me would really be thrilled if it turned out that I have a hidden talent for picking good horse names…but he didn’t say anything like, “Oh, man, Lisa! You hit the trifecta!” (or whatever…) so I’m assuming Im a Mosaic Rockstar was my one-time hit. (Still a little thrilling though…)

3. People stop me for directions a lot. And…today, while I was on my lunchtime constitutional, a woman stopped me and said, “Excuse me?” and I stopped because I assumed she needed help figuring out where to go…but then she said, “Where do you get your hair done?” and *that* is totally a scam, isn’t it? I’ve had people stop me before and ask that very same question and it turns out that they want money or personal information or something…(although maybe I’m wrong? I Googled various street-salon-scam term combinations and came up empty-handed…which maybe means she was legitimately wondering where I get my hair done…but…I doubt it. I had my luxurious brown locks pulled back in a ponytail today…and it may have been a nice ponytail…but it wasn’t anything that was going to stop traffic). And…as soon as I discovered that she was not a poor lost soul but rather thought she could sucker me into some hair scam, I was sorry I stopped…but instead of having a normal reaction, like, “I’m sorry — I have to go…” I pulled a Lisa and ended up blurting out, “I have to go!” with wild eyes and, long story short, if she *did* just want the name of a hairdresser, I’ll bet she thought I was a real weirdo.

4. I’ll just come right out and admit I ended up at a McDonald’s — and I know you’re all judging me now, but I had a good reason…and yet if I was to pull *another* Lisa and explain *how* I ended up at this McDonald’s, it would be very much like my old coworker Paulie said the other night — that my stories are like a John Bonham riff in a Led Zeppelin song — and/or imply that there is something WRONG with going to McDonald’s…and there isn’t. So…we’ll leave it at that. I was there. The End. (Almost…)

I ended up next to this dude who ordered two Filet-o-Fish sandwiches…and then appended his order with, “But I want them to be FRESH. And they need to be HOT.” And the guy behind the counter sort of said, “Sure…okay…” and I thought, “Wow. Yes. Right. I’m sure they’re going to go out of their way to give your Filet-o-Fishes some tender loving care…” And, I mean, I guess I shouldn’t judge either, but…it was a little high-maintenance, no? (And this is coming from ME…which really says something…) There’s a time and place, right? My mom used to (and perhaps still does…I just haven’t seen her order seafood in awhile…) ask if the salmon on the menu was farmed or not (or something)…and I understand that if you’re, you know, coughing up some change at an actual sit-down place, you can make requests like that. But…this was McDonald’s. You sorta get what you get, right? (I confess I actually really think the latest commercial is catchy…) But THEN the guy says, “And I don’t want half a slice of cheese. I want a whole slice of cheese on both of them.” And the guy said, “I’ll have to charge you extra…” and he completely lost his mind — “What are you talking about?? The cheeseburgers have whole slices of cheese! Why can’t I get a whole slice of cheese on my Filet-o-Fishes??” and he asked how much he would be charged and the guy said, “33 cents,” and he had another meltdown — “33 cents?? I have to pay SIXTY-SIX CENTS for WHOLE SLICES OF CHEESE on my Filet-o-Fishes? This is ridiculous! Ridiculous!” and on and on and on and ON. They had to get the manager. I left before I learned the outcome…but, man, oh, man…I did not envy the two guys behind the counter who had to deal with him. Yowza.

5. I had to wait for the A and the F trains this afternoon for a super-long time…and noticed a nice old lady get on the train with me at my A train stop…and, since we had to wait so long, the train was totally crowded…and as we were all sort of finding a spot, this nice little old lady says, “Give me some fucking room!” and THEN we got to Jay Street and a B train showed up on the F track…and she shouts, “This is fucking ridiculous!” and THEN she got on the train, but stood in the doorway as we all tried to hear what was going on with this mystery B train and they tried to close the doors with her still in the doorway and she says, “I can’t fucking believe it!” So. In three fell swoops, Grouchypants sort of debunked some commonly held old lady myths.

And then I came home and everything basically went back to normal. The End. (For real.)

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Filed under birthdays, blogs, Brooklyn, cheese, fish, Martha

Recuerdos de Costa Rica…Or, Ruminations on Similarities Between Costa Rica and Alaska, Among the Usual Anecdotes

Okay, okay…I’ll stop pretending I know anything about Spanish. (Although I *will* say that it is awfully embarrassing/depressing that after six years of studying the language […seven years ago…], my vocabulary is limited to a few choice phrases…and even *those* I am essentially scared to say out loud to native speakers.)

And…because I know how easy it is to forget the day-to-day when you go on a trip like this and then try to recall what exactly happened to everyone back home (“There was a zipline…and then we saw some monkeys…”), I made a concerted effort to record the goings-on at the end of each day. What follows is basically me writing up my notes. (And just to cover my bases, I suppose, I should note that these recollections are mine and mine alone…and I’m only human and it’s possible my memory is flawed and that these recollections may not be precisely accurate…so. Perhaps read with a grain of salt. [Also? This turned out to be really long. (Even for me…) And I’ve been working on it forever…and as I read it for the umpteenth time, part of me is tempted to just click “Publish” already…so Days Eight and Nine may not have received the tender loving care that they deserve…and for that I hope you’ll accept my humble apologies.])

Day One

Our flight was at 5:45 in the morning and a car was coming to pick us up around 3…so we just stayed up all night. It probably goes without saying that we were pretty exhausted and delirious by the time we made it to the airport. And after telling J that the easiest way to get from my apartment to JFK was to just call a car service and that this was a unique New Yorky thing and she was hip to the scene because she was with a local…we ended up with a guy who parked at the opposite end of my street and who didn’t move the car when we came out of my apartment at 3:00 in the morning with all of our luggage. (And he wasn’t driving a black Lincoln! It was, like, a gray Nissan Altima.) And then he drove like a bat out of hell and sort of got lost in Queens…and it wasn’t a Dial-7 sort of experience. We made it to JFK in two distinct pieces though…and literally the moment we walked through the airport doors, the handle on my purse broke. It was obviously too late to do anything about it (although we did search for glue at the Miami airport…only to find a man in one of the gift shops who tried to stick my strap back together with scotch tape and then advised me to “pull as hard as [I could],” and I promptly ripped it right back apart again…so he gave me a big shopping bag…that basically served as my purse for the rest of the trip.).

We were so tired we slept most of the way on both flights…and when we actually landed in San Jose, I could see some green landscape and life going on outside…but it was still sort of hard to believe that we were actually there — even when we were waiting in line to go through Customs. I had reserved a car…so J was able to flex her language muscles for the first time when we picked it up. And once we were at the actual off-site rental counter (and they told us not to move the car if we had an accident as it would render our insurance null and void), I asked for directions to the hotel…but the guy behind the counter was a little dubious. I had picked the Gran Hotel Costa Rica because my book said it was in the center of San Jose and that it was very close to the Teatro Nacional and that it had been around since the 1930s and had some Art Deco charm to it or somesuch…and it just seemed more unique and San-Jose-y than, say, the Holiday Inn. But the guy asked if we had prepaid…and then proceeded to give us directions because we *had*, but he said it would have been a lot easier to have just stayed near the airport.

And as we headed out for the first time in our Toyota Corolla in search of the Gran Hotel, J said something like, “I hope they have parking…” and it was the first time I had actually thought about something like that. I guess I figured parking was a given. (I think this is what they call foreshadowing…)

So…finding the actual hotel wasn’t all that hard. There was a big road called Paseo Colon…and I think we had to make one lefthand turn, but that was about it. We could see the hotel off to our left. However…the hotel was in the middle of a big square…and there was no place to park nearby. So…we sort of ended up going around and around the square, wondering what to do. We eventually figured out that “parqueo” is “parking lot” and saw a tiered structure on one of the side roads…in which we found a very nice group of men who listened patiently to us — J was so much better at speaking than I was — and one of them even drew us a map. We ended up back in front of the hotel…where we saw a road sort of going underneath the hotel and the words “NO” and “something.” “Maybe it means ‘Parking for Hotel Guests Only!'” I guessed optimistically. But, nope. We couldn’t park there either. So…we ended up pulling up in front of the hotel and were sort of despairing over what to do…when a man approached us to pay to park there…and he was the one who finally explained that we had to park in the lot with the hut with the blue roof a little further down the road.

When we finally pulled into the place where we were actually allowed to leave the car, a man approached and asked for our room number. And while, in hindsight, I probably could have come up with something like, “Todavia no sabemos el numero de nuestro cuarto,” I sort of panicked in the moment and said, “Estamos llegando!” to which the man laughed and said that it was clear we were new arrivals. And as we pulled our luggage out of the trunk, he offered to call security and J said it wasn’t necessary as the hotel was just across the street and then he told us a story about a woman he found crying because someone had stolen her $1000 necklace and he said it was best for us to just wait for someone to walk over with us.

By the time we were actually checked into our room, we were both pretty frazzled. We ended up having dinner in the restaurant downstairs. Wine helped. And I had the first of several arroz dishes.

Day Two

We woke up ready to kiss San Jose goodbye and to head north to Arenal.

The hotel served a pretty decent breakfast, including — get this — blueberry juice (…which I actually thought said “blackberry juice” at first…). I was *really* excited about it…but actually found it to be a little too sweet.

After breakfast, we got directions and returned to the Corolla…and were heading back to the airport in order to ultimately go north. However, while looking for Paseo Colon again, we somehow ended up going the wrong way on a one-way street and got all turned around (which made me feel bad as J was doing this big, brave thing by driving and I was supposed to be her trusty navigator…but I swear the map said it was a two-way street *and* there was a yellow line in the middle of the road)…but eventually we found another sign for el aeropuerto and proceeded on our three-and-a-half-hour drive. It was very, very green — a really pretty drive…and definitely not like any landscape I’d ever seen before. The turns were a little hairy…and there were lots of people walking along the sides of the roads — including wee little ones…and we kept seeing signs for “queso palmito…” although I don’t think we ever quite figured out what that was.

It was all worth it when we got to Arenal though. We had the cutest little bungalow with an amazing view out back of a very lush, tropical landscape. The focal point of all the resorts in the area — the very reason they exist, in fact (their raison d’etre!) — is Volcan Arenal. And everyone at our hotel kept telling us how lucky we were to be able to see the volcano that day…as oftentimes there is so much fog you can’t see it at all. (And, sure enough — when we woke up the next day, it was gone and we didn’t see it again the entire time we were there. So. We were lucky to have gotten pictures the first day. And this brings me to the first Alaskan Similarity: Seeing Denali [also known as Mount McKinley] is kind of a crapshoot as it is often hidden by clouds. Plus — Similarity #2 — we were in Costa Rica during the rainy season…which I thought was kind of like going to Alaska in the winter. Obviously the weather is different…but in both places, the off-season means lower prices and fewer tourists and it’s still really beautiful.)

We stuck close to home for lunch on that second day, opting to eat in the one restaurant on the hotel grounds. I ordered another “typical Costa Rican dish” that came with chicken, rice, plantains, salad, cheese (perhaps queso palmito?) and a fried egg that I gave to J.

Afterward, we (bravely) donned swimwear and headed down to the pool/spa where, luckily, we were the only guests for miles and miles. J jumped in the pool straightaway despite frigid temps, but I wasn’t as courageous. Instead, I stood with my feet submerged on the top step as a hotel employee walked by and shouted, “Hace frio?” and I said, “Si!” (one of the few words I can say with much authority) and I *believe* he suggested I jump in right away to get it over with. Eventually I did. But it was darn cold. Sooo…after a lap or two, we retreated to the spa…and before too long a bartender appeared — another one of the hotel employees who commented on how lucky we were to be able to see the volcano — and she asked us if we wanted anything to drink. (There was actually a bar right up along the pool’s edge…and I suppose that in the warmer months, you can swim right up and get yourself a drink.) The special on that particular day was a Coco Loco and so soon J and I found ourselves with drinks in coconuts.

We ate in the same restaurant that night…and, this is such a dorky thing to say, but…according to my notes, I had more arroz con pollo (I was big on anything labeled “typical plate” or that was somehow otherwise blatantly Costa Rican). We had tried to go to the supermercado in La Fortuna that afternoon to stock up on some basics and to perhaps not be beholden to that one restaurant…but there was an accident on the main road and we couldn’t get through.

And –- indulge me in one more small aside – -all the rice and beans sort of made me think of the Bartender as his stepfather is from Puerto Rico and he grew up eating lots of it and it’s what he cooked for himself over and over again after he hurt his foot and was out of work and couldn’t really afford to buy much else…and one of our crises this summer was promulgated by him being stupid after he said he was sick of rice and beans and I said, “You know I can cook, right?” and he said, “You’d cook for me?” and I said, “Of course I would!” and I proceeded to plan a totally elaborate meal with an Asian-style flank steak and pickled cucumbers and whatnot…and the night before he was slated to eat said meal, he texted me to say he was going to the Jersey Shore instead. A real gem, that boy. And…prepare to breathe a sigh of relief: When I was in Costa Rica, the relative smallness of the Bartender’s actual role in the grand scheme of things finally sort of hit me. He felt really far away…and, while I still miss him, it feels like something finally shifted. It could very well be that I felt the act of going to Costa Rica was really, totally 100% moving on with my life…and that this trip was about getting out and doing things that make me happy instead of wallowing in my apartment and getting droopy eyes every time I walk by his bar. Or something. I am even attempted to identify him by name in one final reckless act to close this particular chapter…like, say, Carrie Bradshaw with Big at the end of the series or Julie Powell with D at the end of Cleaving (…more on that in my next post…)…but, then again, there are some things about him that I’d like to hold close and keep just for me. (The end.)

For dessert, the restaurant offered us a tres leches cake…and we were too full to eat it that night, so we vowed to come back for it before we left for good. I had never had tres leches before, but J had fond memories of it growing up (I think) and said her sister had it at her wedding. This, of course, got the little wheels in my head moving and when I got back to reality, I did a quick search and found an Alton Brown recipe. My mother thinks Alton Brown is absolutely IT because he’s scientific and stuff. She is even willing to forsake our family pie crust recipe because she saw an episode of Alton’s show in which he said that a mixture of butter and lard makes for the perfect crust and he backed up his theory by explaining what fats bond to and whatnot. I admit that I, too, have been curious about using butter and/or lard…but I haven’t done so yet…and part of it is definitely because I’d feel like a traitor to my aunt and my great-grandmother. (And when J and I went back a day or two later, they were *out* of the tres leches cake…so I never actually got to try it there.)

Over our meal, we also talked about red velvet cake and J went off on a pretend tirade about how it isn’t really fair that we only use red food color…and I eventually vowed one day to try out blue velvet. (So…perhaps that will come after the Cleaving post…)

Day Three

Not a hugely early start. We had breakfast in the same restaurant…and we got lots of fruit again – including guava (I think…). But pineapple is still my favorite.

The ONE thing that J wanted to do while we were in Costa Rica was to zipline through the rainforest. I was less enthusiastic…but I wimped out of a somewhat similar experience in the sixth grade at a ropes course and so J was able to hold this over my head and to talk about how I had a great opportunity to do it over again and to conquer my fears and whatnot. So…I wanted to get the zipline over and done with early on so I wouldn’t have it hanging over my head the entire trip.

And…the hotel was nice and had given us a coupon for a free activity…so, with a heavy heart, I signed up to zipline through the rainforest on Day Three.

Since the hotel was more or less empty, I was hoping we would be the only ones on this zipline trip…but, alas, there were about ten other people, including four guides. J and I were the last to arrive, so we quickly got into our harnesses and I nervously made a joke about having a big head as one of the guides readjusted my helmet.

There were nine lines on this particular course. Another guide, Ishmael, explained to J and I how to use the brake on our right hand and he said that it was important to sit back and to try to be relaxed, etc., etc. I understood all of this more or less in theory. But when I finally looked down from the platform and saw where we were supposed to *go*, I was substantially less sure. It was SO high! And it was beautiful, to be sure…but it was SO HIGH!

J said she was nervous, but she sailed off down the line with the rest of them like an expert.

I was the last one. It was just me and Ishmael left on the first platform. He asked if I was okay. I said I didn’t know. He was nice and patient with me…but eventually I told myself that I was going to have to go sometime, so I finally let him let go of me…and, wow. I was really, REALLY tense and my hand with the brake kept flying off the line and that made me even *more* nervous and tense…and it was just so fast…

But when I got to the next platform, J (in waterproof pants!) was super-nice and very encouraging. She kept saying, “You’re ziplining through the rainforest! Isn’t that incredible??” But I just didn’t feel *quite* the same way about it. It *was* really beautiful. And I am certainly glad I did it…but it’s one of those things that I have crossed off the list of Things To Do Before I Die…and that’s it for me and ziplining, I think.

For the next two lines, it was just me and Ishmael on the platform again after everyone else had left…and it required a lot of encouragement for me to let go again. (I believe the poor guy had to listen to me say, “This wasn’t my idea! J wanted to do this! I’m here for her!” a little more than once…) It was so beautiful and green and, well, rainforesty…and unlike anything I have ever seen before…but I had to look straight ahead toward the end point and focus on that and that alone or I never would have made it. I could, however, sort of see all the pretty stuff in my peripheral vision…and despite all of the worries I had about falling or lines snapping, I *did* acknowledge how beautiful it was, too. (The guides kept saying to relax and enjoy the scenery, but…easier said than done, man.)

PLUS you were supposed to pull yourself up so they could hook you onto the line…but I have absolutely no upper body strength whatsoever (not to mention that I have been feeding feelings for months and months and have maybe never been so fat in my entire life)…and so…more elementary school flashbacks to those California State Physical Education Tests (or whatever they were called) and my inability to do a single pull-up. So, basically, I failed. And I hadn’t – or, heck, haven’t – failed at much in my short(-ish) life. But…despite my best efforts to pull my damn chin up over that damn pole, it never happened. And then we moved to Mississippi where no one had to take tests like that (…but…where further humiliation ensued after I joined the girls’ basketball team without realizing what I was getting myself into and ended up on the team with a certain Jennifer White who absolutely hated my guts because I was so bad and who went on – I believe – to play for the Mississippi State Bulldogs. [And, ironically, our mothers befriended each other in the stands while watching Jennifer win games and me warm benches…but that is a story for another day]).

So…after not pulling myself up on the line and having two distinct panic attacks, I found myself face-to-face with the longest of the ziplines: Number Three. And, boy, oh boy…after Ishmael let me go, I was cursing in my head to such an extent that I would have made sailors, longshoremen and car mechanics blush. (There was a mom along for the trip – her daughters, probably aged 7 or 8 and 11ish, put me to shame – who told me that it helped to scream…but I couldn’t bring myself to actually do that. It was silent terror.)

And as I was gearing up for the fourth line and wondering how on earth I could do this six more times, Ishmael finally said, “Do you want me to go with you?” And I excitedly said, “Yes!”

This solved everything. With Ishmael behind me, I no longer had to worry about how/when to brake…and it was completely comforting to think that if I was going to fall into the rainforest below, a strange man was coming down with me.

He was really sweet about it – when we were gearing up to go on the next platform, he called himself my “private taxi” and hooked his line up to mine again. And it was, like, such a damsel in distress moment that I couldn’t help but think of him as my hero a little bit…although, sadly, even though the zipline guys had a little hut on the hotel grounds and we had to walk by it to go to the restaurant and stuff, I never saw him again after that trip. Wistful sigh…

After two lines together, he asked if I thought I could go alone again…and I begrudgingly said I could…and then he said he’d go with me on the final line, which perked me up immensely. And I found that the guides were right and it really *did* help to be more relaxed…although, as noted, it was not easy to do.

And there was also a strange intimacy associated with ziplining…by which I mean Ishmael could get away with saying things like, “Wrap your legs around me!” and he wasn’t just being skeevy.

Later, J and I were in the hot tub and reminiscing about our adventure and I spoke of a moment on one of the platforms when I had been hooked up on the line but was waiting for Ishmael – and I had perhaps just moments earlier confessed my schoolgirl crush, which, in hindsight, may have accounted for her line of thinking – and I was sort of swinging around and not in complete control of myself when I accidentally kneed one of the other guides in the crotch. So…I said to J, “I kneed him in the crotch,” and J looked totally horrified and I said, “It was an accident! I didn’t mean to!” and a wave of relief spread over her face and she said, “Oh! I thought you were saying, ‘I need him in the crotch.’”

After Line Nine was in the can, the guys offered an optional rappelling adventure and I was sort of torn…on the one hand, I felt like I should do it because I was in Costa Rica and when on earth was I going to have another opportunity to go rappelling down a waterfall? But, on the other hand, I had already done a really brave thing that day…and when I realized that I really hadn’t paid attention to what the guy was saying about how to lower yourself off the platform, I figured I had probably had enough boundary extension for one day.

J was brave though. She rappelled.

As I waited for her by the bus, one of the guides pointed out a bat in a banana tree…and lots of vampire jokes ensued. (Blame Twilight?)

Then there was lots of rain and fog…and the volcano was totally obscured – it was like it wasn’t even there…which, again, sort of reminded me of trying to spot Denali in Alaska. Sometimes you get lucky and it’s a clear day…but when it’s cloudy, you get bupkus. We finally understood why everyone had said it was such a big deal the day before. We were concerned it was perhaps *too* foggy to drive to La Fortuna, but we were sick of the restaurant, so we decide to brave it anyway. There, we stocked up on platanos tostados (my absolute favorite), empanadas, and some sort of cheese sticks, among other comestibles…and we had a little picnic on our patio. There was a cat wandering the hotel grounds that appeared again…and I wanted to take her photo, but J initially chastised me for trying to exploit the poor animal…and later relented when she was annoyed that the cat wouldn’t go away.

Day Four

We had to get a really early start because a bus was stopping by to pick us up and take us to Cano Negro. (We still managed to sneak in breakfast at the restaurant though. More plantains. Which, as noted, I love.)

We had two guides, both named Javier. And after stopping at two more hotels to pick up an additional couple/family, one Javier drove while the other regaled us with folklore. Our first stop was an iguana refuge that Javier alluded to by telling us that the particular animal we were about to see is known as, “chicken of the tree.” (Plus, fun fact: Males are bright orange.)

Javier asked us if anybody in the group spoke Spanish…and then he made the dos cervezas joke that everyone seems to make after asking if anyone knows Spanish (“The only thing you need to know how to say is, “Dos cervezas, por favor…”).

When we finally got to Las Chiles, we boarded a pontoon boat…which sort of reminded me of a scene from the African Queen…

The driver of the boat was known as “Eagle Eyes” because of his incredible ability to spot animals…and he was totally deserving of the name. And this was yet another part of the trip that reminded me of Alaska — Similarity Three — the boat ride was sort of like taking the bus in Denali…you have to keep your eyes peeled and what you see over the course of the day is totally a crapshoot. But…as soon as someone sees something and shouts, “Stop!” the bus (or boat) will pull over and everyone oohs and ahhs and takes pictures and then you all set off again…I was a little worried at first because there was a birdwatching couple from England that repeatedly spotted birds…and we initially stopped for each one and Javier explained what it was…and, you know, I like birds as much as the next guy…but I was really jonesing for some monkeys. Luckily, after we’d more or less seen one of each of the birds they have in Cano Negro, the guide politely acknowledged the couples’ subsequent discoveries, but we didn’t pull over anymore. (And then little boy on shore waved at us. And my biological clock began ticking just a little louder…)

And then…a sloth! And howler monkeys (including an orange one that Javier said had a genetic abnormality that happens when the grandfather is also the father)! And another kind of monkey (perhaps spider?)! And capuchin monkeys! And caimans! (Caimen?) It was really quite something.

We crossed over the Nicaraguan border very briefly — really only long enough to take a picture of the “Welcome to Nicaragua” sign and to turn around. But, technically speaking, I have been to Nicaragua now. (Sort of like Kentucky. I was there for about 15 minutes this summer while we were killing time. It was really only long enough to take a picture of some chickens. So…not sure if I can count it on my list of new states this year…which, for the record otherwise numbers five: New Mexico, Texas, Arkansas, Virginia and Colorado.)

We went back down the Rio Frio, where we saw more birds, bats and another sloth. Javier warned us that you have to be really careful with your camera on beaches as capuchin monkeys really like shiny objects and will run up and steal them from you if you are not vigilant.

And I swear this wasn’t all that I ate, but after we disembarked, we stopped off for more arroz con pollo before the hour-long drive back to Arenal. There, J began talking to a couple from Houston who were in Costa Rica celebrating their anniversary and who really liked Vancouver as well…and they said they had recently visited New York, but hated it…in part because, as the husband said, there are too many foreigners.

It was mostly quiet on the drive back to Arenal…along the way, we stopped off at a farm where we saw some more animals and ate a cassava-cheese thing that was kind of the same consistency as a lemon bar. I liked it.

By then, it was raining again…but we were really lucky that the weather was so nice while we were on the river. It rains eight months out of the year there…which, again, is sort of like Alaska (in that winter — like the rainy season — is really, really long).

That night, J and I returned to the hot tub…where there were a group of youngsters cavorting…including a couple of boys who cut up limes and dropped them into their shorts and squealed.

Day Five

I got up early to go horseback riding. J had opted out of this particular activity…but it had been SO long since I’d been horseback riding and I really wasn’t sure when I would have a chance to do it again, so I decided it was worth going sola. But, unlike the zipline adventure that I had hoped would be just me and J, the morning horseback ride turned out to actually be just me and the guide, Alex.

My horse’s name was Eclipse. Alex asked me how long it had been since I’d ridden a horse and I did some quick math and came up with a 17-year estimate. And…Eclipse trotted and galloped a lot faster than anything I remembered…plus, it was raining and everything was muddy and slippery. The ol’ boy even got up to a canter at one point – which, when I was taking lessons as a girl, was the really big, scary thing that took me a long time to do.

While I was getting ready that morning, I wanted to wear my yellow pants…but because it was raining so much, I *had* to bring my rain jacket…which, unfortunately, is yellow…and I didn’t want to look like I belonged on Deadliest Catch…so I went with my red pants instead…but then Alex gave me a blue helmet…so I ended up looking like a character on a children’s television show (Or worse.).

We saw a howler monkey at the very beginning…but, despite Alex’s best effort to hoot at it, it didn’t make a peep. We also saw a lot of vultures and some toucans…but, sadly, the toucans were sort of hard to make out (distinctive beaks, I guess…but that’s about it…) and so Toucan Sam remains my benchmark. (I hate to whip out Alaska again, but I was really excited about seeing puffins for the first time at Prince William Sound [also where I saw otters in the wild for the first time…]. They’re so tiny! And I think this is maybe Similarity #5?)

The ride was really rainy and muddy…and, like I said, Alex kept telling me to make kissy noises at the horse to make him go faster, but I was perfectly happy with taking a more leisurely pace. (Alex also kept calling me, “Vacara!” and “Cowgirl!”) There were lots of rocks and streams and stuff…so we definitely got out beyond where I ever could have possibly walked on foot…and it was all worth it when we got into the rainforest…which was my absolute favorite part. It was so beautiful and green and just like I had always pictured it (instead of, you know, sort of taking it in peripherally as I flew by in the trees)…

We ran into another group along the way…but, as noted, my Spanish is perhaps less than conversational…and so other than, “Buenas!” I was pretty much out. There was a big lake near the volcano that had lots of water lilies in it and Alex had me bring Eclipse out into the middle of it so he could take a picture of me and the horse in the water. (Alex was really sweet and took a lot of photos of me and the horse along with way…which is just one of the reasons it is so unfortunate that I looked like such a buffoon.)

Unfortunately, we couldn’t see the volcano again because of the fog…but Alex still had me tie up my horse when we reached the top of the mountain so we could give him a breather…which I maybe thought was a little strange as the other group came up right behind us, but went on without a break. And then Alex asked me how old I am and if I am married and it was a little awkward…and I, in turn, asked him all the questions I could possibly think to ask…but then I ran out and we were still just sort of sitting there and I was trying to think about how to nicely ask about when we were going to untie the horses and hit the road again…but finally — after an interminably long break — we took off again.

On the way back, Alex took us through a pen with a bunch of bulls in it — big, huge bulls with jowly necks — and I guess he could tell I was maybe a little nervous as he said, “Don’t worry! Bulls are afraid of horses!” I am not entirely sure I believe him…but, no harm, no foul…and I guess in hindsight, it is kind of fun to be able to say that I rode a horse among Costa Rican bulls.

Along the way down, we ran into the owner of the bulls…who was also on horseback. He was wearing a black cape and had a black cowboy hat and his horse was black, too, and Alex took a picture of him giving me a thumb’s up and I couldn’t help but think that he looked like a Black Bart-type character.

Alex said we should keep our eyes peeled for wild pigs on the way back…and I was tempted to ask about whether they are javelinas as my parents have wild pigs near *their* house…but I was still feeling a little awkward from our “Why are you not married?”-conversation at the top of the mountain and it was still raining and my pants were soaked through and I had a pool of water in the hood of my jacket and, while enjoyable and memorable and everything, I was sort of ready to be done with the whole thing. (We didn’t find any pigs anyway.)

And, you know, the whole time I was thinking, “Boy, Lisa, you’re really going to pay for this tomorrow,” and I was scared that I was going to be sore forever…but, amazingly, I was fine. If anything, my stomach muscles hurt after ziplining…and I really didn’t even pull myself onto the line all that much. One of the poor guides (not my beloved Ishmael) had to help me. (Cringe.) Is it perhaps possible that worrying can make your stomach muscles hurt?

In the hot tub that night, J and I met a guy named Jeff from Jacksonville…who was a big surfer and was talking about perhaps moving to Costa Rica…at least for six months out of the year so he can catch lots of gnarly waves. He seemed rather disappointed with Arenal as he couldn’t see the volcano and there wasn’t much of a nightlife there. At dinner, J said that if I wanted him, he was all mine. I had – not arroz con anything! – tilapia a lo macho…which was supposed to be spicy…but either I am tough or it wasn’t that bad. And…I had seen a lot about a beer called Imperial, which billed itself “La cerveza de Costa Rica,” and this was the first night that I tried it. Good stuff. (Although every meathead American guy at the airport was wearing an Imperial t-shirt on the way home, so it may just be that I have bad taste…)

Day Six

We had to finally say goodbye to Hotel Montana de Fuego. And…I was kind of sad about it. I had gotten (mildly) attached to our cute little bungalow and – here’s unequivocal proof of how clingy I am – I would officially never see Ishmael ever again. (I also finally summoned up the courage to take a picture of the oxcart at the restaurant there by thinking about my mother’s “What are you worried about?? You’re never going to see these people ever again!”-advice.)

J expertly maneuvered our Corolla back down south to Alajuela (which, we learned, is far superior to San Jose when it comes to accommodations near to the airport. MUCH more low-key). We wanted to eventually head further south to Manuel Antonio, but to sneak in a tour of a coffee plantation while we were at it…and Alajuela seemed the perfect halfway point.

We tried to retrace our steps…but it got a little confusing in San Ramon…which was the first place I had to pop out to ask for directions. (By the end of the day, I had never said, “Estamos buscando X y no sabemos donde estamos,” so many times in my life.)

Along the way, we stopped off for more plantain chips…but, sadly, these weren’t as good as those first ones from that supermercado in La Fortuna. (I think they had some lime. SO good.)

We had a devil of a time finding our hotel…it was on the same road as a giant aviary called “Zoo Ave” and I got a lot of mileage out of saying, “Estamos buscando Zoo Ave…” and then we saw a sign that said the hotel was in 1200 meters (damn the metric system!) and I swore we had gone 1200 meters and then some and there was no sign of a hotel and so we stopped at a furniture store and I used my phrase on a guy on a motorcycle…and, while he hadn’t heard of our hotel specifically, he told me that all of the hotels were down to our left…and I really wanted to say, “But there’s a sign right over there that says our hotel is in 1200 meters!” But, alas, I could not…and so I was pointing to where the sign was and trying to say something about the hotel as he was saying, “There are no hotels that way!” So, sadly, after all those Spanish classes in high school and college, I was left on that street in Alajuela, thinking, “How in the hell do you say, ‘sign’?” Sigh again.

We *did* finally find it though…and it was a cute little cabiny room…with a very bizarre showerhead.

J and I were *supposed* to go on the 3:30 tour at Doka Estate…but, alas, we got really lost again…and I tried to use my phrase…but to no avail. (The guy who owned our hotel in Alajuela was a very chatty Canadian who later told us that Ticos – that’s Costa Ricans – find it very rude not to answer a question…and so sometimes they will tell you something just to tell you something.) So…we totally missed our tour, but were determined to find the damn Estate so that we wouldn’t have so much trouble the following morning…and the lady at the front desk at our hotel had said that we’d just go two kilometers and then turn left and then go another two kilometers until we got to the fork in the road and then turn right and then we’d see tons of signs…but…we didn’t see any signs…and facil it was not.

Along the way, we *almost* stopped off for dinner at a place called El Mirador that was supposed to have amazing views…but we ended up going back to our hotel and then walking to a seafood joint called La Princesa that had a giant anchor out front (it was one of the landmarks they gave us when giving us directions to Doka Estate). I had more rice and shrimp and Imperial…and we ordered tres leches…but J didn’t like it very much. I liked the flavor…but thought the texture was a little bit like watery cheesecake.

On the walk back home, we saw giant leafcutter ants all in a line, each carrying a single leaf. And…it wasn’t exactly a restful night as there were very loud Englishmen outside *and* there was a storm.

Day Seven

In an attempt *not* to get lost again, we got very long-winded directions from the Canadian guy who owned the hotel.

And, as luck would have it, we *thought* we had found Doka Estate the evening before, but…really all we had found was one of the signs…and so we had to keep going up the hill and we still sort of struggled to find the damn place…even after all that legwork from the day before.

We *finally* arrived at about 10:15 and were luckily able to sneak into the 10:00 tour that only included one couple from Michigan. There, we learned lots and lots about coffee-making from a guide who reminded me a lot of my friend Carmen. And there was unlimited free coffee at the end of the tour.

We got a little lost on the way back, but we ended up finding a gas station…so sort of kismet.

Afterward, we wanted to make our way to Manuel Antonio…and the Canadian guy had sworn up and down that the route was easy and there would be signs and stuff. And, luckily, he was right! It was a good three-plus-hour drive…but we didn’t get lost! And there were lots of signs! And we crossed a bridge that had crocodiles underneath and were able to pull off and see them and get right back in the car and go on our merry way…and the monkey hotel (when I read its motto was, “Still more monkeys than people,” I was totally sold) had room for us even though we didn’t have a reservation…and we got a room that looked like it was straight out of Swiss Family Robinson that was pretty much all windows and wood…and had a giant sliding door and two rocking chairs that said “Costa Rica” on the seats out front. Plus, our towels were folded into hearts and the toilet paper was folded into flowers. (I am easily impressed.) And the view from the pool was amazing and open and tropical and very much paradise-y…

We had an early dinner at a restaurant called the Anaconda (which made me think of the big butt song) and a bat flew by us over and over as we looked out on the trees and the water and swooned. I had a weird melony drink and J helped me compose a list of traits of my ideal man. (If you’re a brunette with big arms, you’re still in the running!)

Day Eight

Official Manuel Antonio Day. I was *really* looking forward to this day as the park was supposed to be crawling with wildlife. And even though I eventually outgrew the ape/monkey phase inspired by my report on orangutans in the sixth grade, I still really like them and have never had an opportunity to see them in the wild before.

The park was only a short drive from our hotel…so we quickly encountered a guy with a whistle who blew us over and told us where to park and tried to talk us into taking a tour with him. We had heard mixed reviews of these tours (including invaluable advice from Jeff from Jacksonville) and decided we might as well try to go into the park on our own as Jeff advised and that if the trip was totally a bust, we could easily go back the next day and cough up money for a guide. (This particular guide told us that we would only see two lizards the entire day if we attempted to go on our own, but he finally relented when we said we’d maybe be back…)

But as we were walking toward the park, we saw him blowing his whistle at other cars…but they ignored him and swerved around…and he had also said that the park was in 500 meters, but there was a sign around the corner as clear as day that said the park was in 1 kilometer…and then we sort of put two and two together and decided to move the car to a more accessible location.

And…even without a guide, we were still able to sort of mooch off of the tour groups in the park as we knew there would be animals wherever they were stopped. Howler monkeys were easy to spot because they’re so damn loud…but sloths were harder and were where mooching really paid off.

We eventually made it out to a beach and I took a photo of the “Don’t feed the monkeys”-sign while desperately hoping I would see some actual monkeys.

Out on the beach, J found some tadpoles in a pool in some rocks…and I followed behind but then slipped and fell in my dumb tennis shoes…and my knee really hurt…so I was perfectly happy to sit on the beach for awhile afterward while J went swimming. So…as I sat there and watched J swim and marveled at how pretty it was and pondered what to do with my life, a raccoon appeared behind me…and it surprised me, so I jumped up…and, remember that shopping bag that doubled as my purse? Well…that ballsy little raccoon came right up to where I was sitting and made a grab for it and I wasn’t quite sure what to do…but luckily a man saw what was happening and shouted and clapped at him and the raccoon ran away without my bag. (I got a photo of him though…)

And…after J was finished swimming and had showered off and everything, we walked back…and decided to pop off on one of the other trails called El Mirador. And…this is where it all happened. Out on the trail, we found so many capuchin monkeys! And they were right above our heads! And they were eating berries and talking to us…(and, yes, pooping…). And it was just so incredible — it was one of those things I will always remember. I never wanted it to end. And then on the way back, we saw more howler monkeys and sloths. It was quite a successful morning!

We had lunch at a quite little spot in Quepos called Cafe Milagro and then hung out by the pool with the magical view for awhile before changing into fancier duds and hitting up Salsipuedes (one of my favorite names *ever*) for tapas and one of the most beautiful (and fast!) sunsets I have ever seen and a black cat that ended up in my lap. I then talked J into a cantina crawl, so we hit up El Avion, La Cantina and Anaconda again…except this time they were playing that song about hos in different area codes and I was once again able to marvel at the fact that I have lived in SO MANY different places and yet the only area codes I know in that song are from Georgia and New York. And — funny enough — there was a big flat screen TV at one of the bars on which you could watch — get this — the CU/OSU game en vivo. So. A bizarre little reminder of home smack-dab in the middle of Central America.

Day Nine

Our trip was coming to an end…so we had to say goodbye to the monkey hotel, too, and make our way back to Alajuela once again.

But, as our hotel had bragged about having more monkeys than people, I really wanted to go out on one of the trails to find some of the little buggers before we left…but, alas, it was wet and there was a precipitous drop and so J and I decided to quit while we were ahead and we made our way back toward the middle of the country. The drive was pretty much okay…although we got lost a little bit more than we did on the way there…and Hotel Orquideas had a room for us (despite all of my worries that we would be high and dry without reservations for every single night that we were there…). The hotel even had a Marilyn Monroe-themed bar, where we spent the early part of our final evening there…and then we retired to our room, where I happened to catch my very favorite Costa Rican TV commercial one last time. (I *believe* it was for a deodorant…and it showed women in long sleeves who lifted their arms toward the sky and then their sleeves shot off and turned into fireworks. I cannot *believe* that I did not think to write down the name so I could search for it on YouTube.)

And, with that, Costa Rica was basically over. And soooo is my blog post.

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Filed under Alaska, beer, blueberries, books, Brooklyn, cake, cheese, cheesecake, chickens, coffee, eggs, fish, football, Mississippi, red velvet, wine

July’s Most Memorable Food…

Well, here we are: August and I haven’t posted nothin’ in a real long time.

I have another good excuse though!

I mean, partially it’s because I feel no one in the universe reads this except for my mother (which is a scene right out of Julie & Julia! Except that in the Nora Ephron/Julie Powell version, people actually *do* start reading eventually)…

But it’s also because I’ve been on the road. With my mother. In a giant trailer. (You know, like you do…)

And I certainly can’t sum up the whole trip in a measly blog post…but I can hit some highlights.

First? Nick’s Bar-B-Q & Catfish in Carlisle, Arkansas. Whoa. SO good. I felt like I was back at Penn’s in Brandon, Miss. A welcome change from all the McDonald’s (remember, kiddos, we were 52 feet long and needed big parking lots that were easy-on, easy-off…), but also one of the best meals I’ve had in a long time. Everything was fried though — fried catfish, fried pickles, fried okra and fried pies. Well worth the splurge…though it’s probably a good thing I don’t actually live there. It was so memorable, in fact, that I brought my catsitter a bottle of Nick’s barbecue sauce. (Even though I didn’t try the barbecue…)

Next? Chocolate-covered bacon at the Wisconsin State Fair. They also had TONS of fried goodies…from s’mores to cheese to green beans. In fact, I tried my first fried Snickers bar at this fair (which my mother kept calling “frickers” and “frandy bars”)…and I had part of the traditional cream puff. I was really excited about the chocolate-covered bacon though — totally intrigued. It seemed like one of those things I had to try so I could report back to everyone who was sending me links to news stories about it…but, alas, the chocolate-covered bacon stand did not immediately make itself known to us…and after a long day at the fair, most people in my party were ready to head home. And since, like Nick’s, I’d probably already consumed well over my standard daily caloric intake, I opted to head home without complaint, too. Maybe next year.

And…finally, there’s boeuf bourguignon, which I feel I have to make after seeing the aforementioned film. (Although I’m not totally a fair-weather Julia fan! I’ve read both of the books and liked them a lot!) I’m a little nervous about it — the first step, for instance, is to cut bacon into lardons. Yikes! And I’m not sure I have a 9- to 10-inch fireproof casserole dish that is 3 inches deep. But I think I can handle drying 3 pounds of lean stewing beef. And, you know, perhaps this act will help me commune with Julia and Julie and find some sort of meaning and purpose in my life, too. (For the record, I’m still searching. And, to that end, it’s been a little tough being back in NYC…)

(Ooh — I also really enjoyed it when we were at a restaurant in Norton, Virginia and the waiter described a salmon special with haricot vert…but I’d need sound effects to truly make you appreciate it…)

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Filed under Brooklyn, candy, cheese, chocolate, fish, food on a stick, frying, Mississippi, pickles, pie, weight loss, wine

Spam’s Inevitable Comeback?

Spam Curds are a Hit at Minnesota State Fair

Really? I’m thinking something like prosciutto or even salami would be better than spam. (Just wait ’til the New York State Fair next year…?)

Nevertheless, best line ever: “Arnold, who works for Newly Weds Foods in Chicago, had company researchers spend months looking for the perfect batter that would adhere to the square Spam chunks.”

Also enjoyable: “‘At the state fair last year, we opened up over 6,000 cans of Spam,’ Duren said. ‘During the 12 days, there were six days for six hours at a time where we were 30 to 40 people deep waiting in line for our products.'”

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A Selection from "My Deceptively Delicious Dinner Party…"

Plan B was a dinner party for my friends. I figured they could serve as kid-substitutes even if they wouldn’t perhaps be as wonderfully direct as your average five-year-old.

I felt like a fraud when I bought the book. I don’t have kids. I don’t know what it’s like to try to get children to eat vegetables. What right did I have to buy this book? (Plus, it was in a Mother’s Day display which somehow emphasized that I was unfit to purchase it unless my ultimate intent was to give it to someone proper.)

I bought it anyway. I wanted to make as many recipes as possible to give my guests a chance to sample a broad range. I tried to turn it into a fun party game (dangerous territory?) by not telling them what vegetables were hidden inside each dish. I made them guess what purees were included. I even created a chart for them to fill out with boxes for the mystery vegetable and whether or not they liked the dish or had any additional input.

In order to pull this off, I had to make a number of vegetable purees. Jessica makes it sound easy — you toss a bunch of vegetables in a food processor and store the purees in your freezer and pop them out whenever you want to make a vegetable-laced dish for your kids.

I, however, am a frantic, childless grad student and so it wasn’t so much easy prep work as frenzied grocery shopping and mad apartment-cleaning on Friday night (which made me wonder what I was going to do with the rest of my weekend as cleaning and grocery shopping seem to take up the bulk of them) and then rising with the sun on Saturday to puree my heart out and cook, cook, cook.

If I learned anything from this culinary adventure, it is that I am not very good at steaming vegetables. I can blame my steamer in part (I was killing time at Crate and Barrel recently and saw they had steamers for $8, so it might be worth investing in a new one).

I have an aunt who missed her calling in life in either interior design or personal shopping. She has a good eye for design and every time I visit she has rearranged the furniture in at least one room of her house.

She is also good at giving gifts. When I first moved to New York and started cooking for myself, she gave me a colander filled with every kitchen gadget imaginable: a garlic press, pastry brushes, a vegetable peeler, a timer, etc., etc. (When I was moving out of my first horrible apartment in New York, my roommate claimed that the colander was his and asked me to unpack it so he could make pasta. We went back and forth until I finally realized that it would be easiest to just do it — my reward being that I would never have to deal with him again and so the colander became a parting gift from my life.)

My aunt *also* included a vegetable steamer in that 2003 Christmas gift. And by now, I had used pretty much everything in there, except said steamer. It was even still in its original packaging.

The steamer was all bound up in a metallic wad and I had trouble busting it open — so much so that I actually broke it a little (which may also explain why I had so much trouble steaming with it). It doesn’t really stay open in a nice bowl-shape. It’s either completely flat or falls in on itself. I did the best I could, balancing it on top of the saucepan and hoping for the best.

Cauliflower was my first vegetable. I cut it into florets but was only able to fit a fraction in the “steamer.” The recipe says you have to steam for eight minutes…but eight minutes into it, my cauliflower did not seem particularly tender and I still had a chopping board full of florets to blow through…and I wasn’t getting any younger (people were coming at 7:30…and at this rate, I was going to spend an hour steaming the head of cauliflower alone), so I decided to boil the rest. (Well, actually, I decided to try to put the cauliflower in a saucepan with a little water — which is what the book says you do to wilt baby spinach — but I soon found that it burned and so I added a lot of water and just let it boil.)

I had some baby spinach left over from a recipe I found in Bon Appetit’s celebration of greens in March (for St. Patrick’s Day — get it?) and so in the interest of frugality, I decided to just use what I had instead of purchasing more baby spinach. (Jessica also says that baby spinach requires no preparation whatsoever and so it’s a snap.) But, I have a big Cuisinart and I did not have all that much baby spinach…so I was able to blend the spinach…but not exactly puree it per se. It splattered against the sides of the food processor and I tried to scrape it back toward the blades with a spatula, but it always ended up just splattering against the sides again and eventually I gave up.

My boiled/steamed cauliflower florets pureed nicely in my Cuisinart once I had softened them. But I had to wash the food processor out repeatedly, which was kind of a pain. (I can’t imagine Jessica doing that over and over again.)

The sweet potatoes were an absolute dream to puree because I roasted them instead of steaming. (But, I forgot to poke holes in them and one of them leaked sticky stuff all over the pan…but I was thankful it did not explode in my oven.)

Another quick note about entertaining: I am completely paranoid about hosting anything. My aunt — the same one who gave me the colander — has a party-planning philosophy. She threw a holiday party once and was very selective about her guest list. Hardly anyone showed up and it was a miserable failure. Ever since then, she has invited literally everyone she knows –- from the mailman to the checkout girl at the grocery store –- and found that this usually ensures a decent mix of people (or at least one that is not completely humiliating). I have tried to adopt a similar tact –- much to the chagrin of my “friends” on Facebook? –- but I think with only mixed results.

I have a friend who always throws great parties. She doesn’t even really throw them — that would require far too much planning. She just decides on a whim that it would be nice to have some people over and because she’s so much fun, what starts out as an intimate gathering quickly snowballs. It’s amazing to me.

I am the type of person who really likes to plan things: the guest list, the food, the order the dishes are served, how my apartment appears, etc. And yet after all of my careful preparation, I have never been able to amass an audience like my friend can. Not once. It’s hard not to take it personally.

Don’t get me wrong –- the people who came were very good sports. But I did this on short notice and one good friend was out of town and another had her fiancée visiting and the F train was bypassing my stop that weekend, so I feel I could have amassed a more sizable crowd had I held off for a bit. (My friend definitely could have…but she, too, ignored my email and so I was unable to muster interest in my party by association with her.)

Also? I have a complex about music. As in, I am completely embarrassed by it and I don’t want anyone to know what’s on my iPod. I think that someone must have made fun of me as a child and it scarred me for life. So this is perhaps another reason why it’s so important to keep the conversation going whenever I have a group of relative strangers amassed in my apartment and I have no background music to fill gaps or to provide conversation pieces. (Or maybe I worry too much.)

I wanted to have an “appetizer” for my guests and I finally settled on mozzarella sticks because the tofu cubes seemed too complicated and the dips sounded a little boring. Plus, Jessica swore her mozzarella sticks were super-easy and I, too, shared her fear that mozzarella sticks were far too complicated for any rational human being to make on his or her own. So I was curious.

I also planned to make lasagna and so I had purchased two enormous hunks of mozzarella, which turned out to be way too much cheese. It was also kind of expensive. And now I have one huge hunk of mozzarella left in my refrigerator. (Although I saw a man eating an enclosed pastry-ish thing on the Subway afterward which made me want to make empanadas. I can definitely rid myself of some cheese that way.)

I tried to jazz up Jessica’s recipe by adding some spices to the breadcrumb mixture. I also couldn’t find flaxseed at my grocery store, so my mozzarella sticks were flax-less. You’re supposed to make little logs and then roll them in bread crumbs and freeze the “sticks” for 20 minutes – presumably so they’ll stay together when you brown them? And I don’t know if it was my timing or what, but I took them out of the freezer after 20 minutes and ended up putting them back in again because I had to do other steps in other recipes before I was ready to brown the sticks…and, unfortunately, they didn’t really want to stay together for me and became a huge blob. It was kind of like a mozzareppa, grilled cornbread with mozzarella in the middle that you see at fairs and festivals and the like.

I, however, was horrified by how ugly it was and wanted to pretend it had never existed. But my guests were far more adventurous than I was and were still willing to try them.

That’s the thing — in my sophomore year of high school, I had to take a speech class and one of our assignments was to do a demonstration. I decided to give a speech on how to make brownies.

At that point in my life, I certainly hadn’t baked as much as I have now, but brownies don’t require much expertise — especially if they come from a box. So…I tried to jazz them up a bit by dusting them with powdered sugar the night before. But when I woke up the next morning and was gathering my things for school, I was horrified to discover that the powdered sugar had melted and my brownies looked awful.

“No one will eat them! I am giving a speech on brownies and no one will want to eat them!” I panicked.

“Don’t worry,” my mother said. “You’d be surprised — people will eat just about anything. Especially if it’s free. You’ll see.”

And, much to my surprise and delight, my mother was right. I apologized profusely when unveiling the ugly brownies to my classmates, but they ate them all anyway. It was the same thing with the mozzarella sticks. I tried to advise against them, but people ignored me and actually consumed them.

And, ironically, it was the only recipe that everyone universally liked.

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Salsa Picante Roja y Queso Colombiano

I’m waaay behind, but will try to do a bit of catching up on this day of rest.

So…

…about a million years ago (actually two weekends ago), I was trying to make Chicken Burritos with Poblano Chiles and Corn and I was looking for bottled red taco sauce at my grocery store…which actually has a decent selection of so-called ethnic products. But I only found red hot sauce, not red taco sauce…and I wasn’t sure if there was a difference. As I stood in the aisle, pondering my next move, an old Mexican woman pointed to a bottle of El Yucateco and told me it was *the* hot sauce. She said it was from the same region in Mexico that she is and made me promise that I would only use a little bit at a time because it’s very, very hot.

“You can always add more later,” she said. (Then a woman bumped into her cart and she gave her a dirty look and the woman said, “Sorry,” and she said, “Don’t be sorry — next time be careful” and I was glad I was on her good side.)

I also had trouble finding poblano chiles, so I ended up using chipotle chiles (a friend told me I say that like a Southerner)…and I love the flavor that chipotles give…but I didn’t realize they’d be so darn HOT…so these burritos, while good, turned out to be almost prohibitively hot. (I found, however, that with enough sour cream…they were palatable…but that might have been all in my head…)

I also found “queso Colombiano” at my grocery store…and so I excitedly told my Colombian friend and she had never heard of the stuff before. I checked the label and it turns out it is from Wisconsin. Ah, marketing.

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