Tag Archives: Jersey Shore

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

Mad Classics…and Tips for Feeding Trashy, Homesick Interlopers.

(Thanks, LehighValleyLive.com! I found this by Googling "Jersey Shore food.")

In honor of last week’s Mad Men premiere and the much anticipated launch of Jersey Shore’s second season, I thought I’d take a moment to ponder which particular foodstuffs would go best with each show.

I’ll start with the much-lauded Mad Men.

I was lucky that the Next Food Network Star included modern twists on ’60s favorites the week *before* last, making it very easy for me to (eww…gross!) regurgitate them this week.

I’m not actually very good at cooking without a recipe (It’s the baker in me?) — Reason #2 I will probably never be on the show. Instead, I found some recently updated versions of these classics, thanks to Epicurious and the Food Network (mostly).

Tuna Casserole

  • Tuna Noodle Casserole — I actually made this recipe once when I was hankering for comfort food. It seemed the most interesting spin with the mushrooms and the sherry and whatnot. It was good…but I haven’t made it since (and I’ve had half a bag of egg noodles in my cupboard, patiently waiting for the day I feel nostalgic enough to try it again…).
  • In general, I am wary of Rachael Ray recipes — I feel like they’re too bland for the required effort and if you really want something “easy,” you might as well really go hog wild and just microwave something (or order in). But…her Retro-Metro Fancy Tuna Casserole sounds okay. And I wonder what using actual tuna steaks would do to a tired-out casserole recipe. Jazz it up? Or would the steaks be lost in the faux-mushroom-soup sauce? That’s basically what Brianna did in that particular episode…but, then again, — spoiler alert — she got the ol’ heave-ho.
  • I feel basically the same way about Martha’s recipes, but her Mediterranean Tuna Casserole sounds like it has potential. I don’t know what makes it Mediterranean though — seems like you’d need to add capers and/or olives or something.

Pigs in a Blanket

First off, I am astounded by the variety of names in the Wikipedia entry. Who knew?

Lobster Thermidor

I confess I didn’t actually know what lobster thermidor was before that fateful Food Network Star episode. I mean, I’d heard of it…but I didn’t know anything about what actually went into it. And…now that I do, I gotta say it sounds pretty gross — egg yolks and cognac?? — and I’m not sure why Tom picked it.

  • I’m also not sure if it’s a recipe that has stood the test of time. Gourmet only has one recipe for it…and it’s from 1940.
  • Emeril has his own version — and it got really good reviews…(although I had to Google “bouquet garni,” so I feel like perhaps I am too ignorant to make it).
  • And…believe it or not, Oprah has a recipe, too…although it’s only because she, too, jumped on the Julia Child bandwagon last year. (Although I guess I have to give her props for not reprinting the Boeuf Bourguignon recipe that was absolutely everywhere…)

Deviled Eggs

I won’t spend too much time here as I have made no secret about my hatred for eggs…and I would never in a million years devil them.

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

I actually remember eating this as a kid — I think my grandmother made it. Which makes sense. I don’t think there’s much modern or new about these recipes though — just plain cake. Which is maybe as it should be?

Okay…got that out of your system? Ready for pickles and Ron-Ron Juice?

I am officially thrilled that Snooki discovered fried pickles while driving through Savannah, Georgia en route to Miami in Episode 1. (I’m a little sad that they let one guy represent all of Georgia and dismissed him as a giant hick, but…that’s a post for another day.)

You may recall I once wrote a heavily edited story about fried pickles that made me sound like a complete ditz. I won’t link to it here as I was completely aghast by what the editor did in trying to assume my voice, but…let’s leave it at this: fried pickles are kind of amazing. (Snooki said it was a life-changing experience that put pickles on a whole other level! She’s not far off.)

Other than their family dinner nights, I imagine the cast of Jersey Shore has better things to do than find good food. (Didn’t J-Woww buy ham at a late-night grocery store and eat it in the confessional room to avoid cheating on her boyfriend once?) So…it’s kind of a short list. And then there’s the whole issue that only one of them is actually from Jersey anyway…so it really should be a post about New York and Rhode Island food?

But…my new ball and chain is from Jersey…so, in his honor, I’ll share all that I know about Jersey food — most of which I have learned from him — should Sami want to seek solace in empty calories or something as she embraces singlehood in MIA.

1. Diners. Jersey is famous for diners. So…typical diner food.

2. Taylor ham. I tried to call this “pork roll” and was corrected. He also thinks it’s fascinating that, like Kleenex, Taylor is a brand name that has come to represent the product itself. And you have to eat it in some sort of sandwich form?

3. Gravy fries. (There’s a bar near me that calls them “Disco fries.” I think this is a substantially more fun name.)

4. Clams? Or is that just my warped memory of Sam Sifton’s piece?

And…there you have it.

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Filed under Brooklyn, eggs, entrees, fish, Food Network, hot dogs, Martha, pickles, pork, Uncategorized

Avoiding Post-AP English Syndrome, Using Expired Scone Mix, Descending Upon My Proposal Like a Beast, Going Through a Cream Phase…and Still Rooting For Team Melissa

Alright, so, I’ve been getting LOTS of amazing feedback…which, for a writer frequently plagued by self-doubt, is really wonderful to hear (although, folks, don’t be shy! Feel free to comment *right here* so, you know, any future employers/publishers can feel the love, too…)…although, in true LL style, it sort of worries me as I fear I’ll get Post-AP English Syndrome again…which, for those of you who haven’t known me since high school, is basically what happened after my AP English teacher told me I was a good writer and I went off to college and felt all sorts of pressure to *be* a good writer and it backfired and I’d spend weeks and weeks on individual papers and get Bs — Bs! — and, about a year later, I finally threw in the towel and said, “To heck with it! If I’m going to get Bs, I’m not going to spend weeks and weeks writing these damn things…” and I wrote a paper the night before it was due…and I was so, so embarrassed by the, you know, word-vomit that I turned in…and that very paper turned out to be the turning point and my professor asked me to stay after class because he thought I could get it published. End Writer’s Block.

So, long story short, I worry my blog will all of a sudden become crap and I will find myself incapable of writing about anything anymore if I let this go to my head and/or try to write anything that I think people will like. Although, in all fairness, Post-AP English Syndrome was — cringe — about ten years ago. So…perhaps I have matured since then. We’ll see.

I haven’t really cooked or baked anything since returning to New York to tackle the New Year (I *did* make eggnog scones from a mix that was given to me last Christmas(-ish) by the Luxury Spot…which were okay…and the only other things worth noting about it are: 1) I like the name of the bakery — Sticky Fingers — and would like to come up with something comparable for my book; and 2) the mix said it was best by 07/03/09, which I *assumed* meant merely that they would have turned out fluffier last summer and not that I would, you know, die after consuming them now…but I’m very much in starving artist mode, so I took a chance.

And, really, the past week has been all about the freelance scramble — drumming up projects, applying for jobs, working on the book proposal — which I absolutely HATE and which stresses me out even more than, you know, baseline…and I feel like I’m constantly working, but never really getting anywhere — there’s ALWAYS a pitch I could be writing or a job I could be applying for (…even if it doesn’t sound all that interesting…)…and there’s always some editing that could be done on my proposal…and, while we’re at it, there’s always some editing that could be done on my 90,000-word draft, too. And…I keep extending my proposal deadline to accommodate…but feel like if I do it any more, it will be 2011 and I’ll still be saying, “My proposal is almost done!” So…this week is it — I’ve given myself an ironclad deadline. No excuses. It’s going out to agents no matter what. (I had a little freakout when I realized that all agents seem to want something different — some want the first chapter, some want the first three…some want the first five to ten pages…some want the first four to seven…and here I’ve been working on a proposal that weighs in at about 100 pages now…and it sounds like I’m going to have to pick it apart — like some sort of vulture! — and cater it to each agent specifically…although a friend pointed out that the agents likely appear finicky just so, you know, they know that you’re really specifically sending it to *them* rather than just sending out a blanket email to see who will bite. [Although a blanket email with my 100-page proposal would be SO much easier…and yield a much faster sense of accomplishment! But…I guess if I’ve waited this long…])

So…simple math — 20 agents in five days. Totally doable. And then no more of this starving artist business with expired scone mix. Lisa Lacy is going places.

Annnd…there are really only two other bloggable things on my mind: National Pie Day and The Bachelor.

First things first, as noted, I’m poor…and I really can’t afford to bake 14 pies and a cobbler to celebrate January 23 in high style like I did last year. (I have also officially given up on Internet fame…) At the same time, I feel like I can’t let January 23 go by unnoticed (plus, I really like traditions…and wish my family had more. When I was in Chicago, I ended up crashing K’s family’s New Year’s Day homemade pizza party…which is something they’ve done every January 1 for the past 30-ish years…and I love stuff like that…)…but this then begs the question — if I’m only going to make ONE pie to acknowledge National Pie Day, what’s THE pie to make? I have my mother’s peeler/corer/slicer, but I feel like I’m over apple for the time being. And I still have cans of pumpkin…but I also feel like pumpkin is too blasé. I’m actually sort of feeling a lemon meringue or a banana cream might be nice — if not totally evocative of the pie genre as a whole. And this is after making a chocolate cream pie for Christmas…so maybe  it means I’m going through a cream phase. I don’t know — I’m open to suggestions. (And — ooh — hey, look: ANOTHER excuse to comment. Lucky!)

And…no good way to segue from cream pies to reality TV (I Googled — there isn’t…), but…I’ve totally been watching Jersey Shore because I’ve been working on a story about it (although, now that I think about it, I guess I’ve already mentioned it…but, since then, I learned that one of my J-school classmates totally interviewed Vinny when we were in RW1 together. It’s my six degrees of separation…)…but my other guilty TV pleasure is The Bachelor. And…I admit that I was genuinely into it in the Jason Mesnick era. I couldn’t believe DeAnna didn’t choose him and felt so sorry for him…but don’t even get me started on the whole Melissa/Molly debacle…and, I mean, sure — things have worked out really well for Melissa since then…and even though Jason looked like a big scumbag at the time, it probably *is* better that he followed his heart when he did, blah, blah, blah. But…I worry a little that maybe Melissa was so eager to show the world that she isn’t a Sad Sally that she jumped into this marriage with Tye. And I could be wrong — all I know about Melissa is what I’ve seen on ABC…but I also wonder if it says something about, you know, modern times (not Medieval Times) or whatever that she needs a husband to make it look like her life is complete and she can’t be independent with a successful career and hold her head up high on her own. *That* would be something. (Although, admittedly, it’s not an easy thing to do. Especially when Stupidface who let you go is right there with his new ladyfriend — who is clearly nowhere near as awesome as you are — and you have to smile through gritted teeth and tell them both how good it is to see them…even though all you really want to do is shoot laserbeams out of your eyes to vaporize them.) So, I mean, I wish Melissa and Tye the best…and I hope it doesn’t turn out to be a Charlie-Sheen-sort of situation. (I was *also* thinking about how Denise Richards must feel a little vindicated and/or be experiencing some good ol’ schadenfreude as news leaks about Charlie post-Christmas. I just hope Jason and Molly don’t find themselves in a similar position. Happy or not, I think they’re a little too smug.)

Okay — one more embarrassing paragraph on The Bachelor and we’re done. SO much to love this season…if not the Bachelor himself. He’s okay, I guess…but he didn’t really win any bonus points in my book for going back to warn Jillian about Love Don’t Come Easy. Seemed a little much to me…although I guess it established a nice segue for this season. Regardless…I totally thought the big scandal was that two *contestants* had hooked up in the house, drumming up all this girl-on-girl intrigue…and not just that one of the ladies had an affair with a crew member. Seems so droll in comparison…and I’m actually kind of surprised ABC hasn’t thought of a lesbian affair already. Perhaps next season. (“It’s okay, Jake, I swing both ways!” Can you imagine??) Back to the stuff I love: LOVE the tagline “On the Wings of Love.” (He’s a pilot! Get it?) I loved the plane flying over Jake’s head when he parked his motorcycle at the beach. I loved it when he said he’d never had 25 women fighting over him before and so seatbelts needed to be fastened. And I loved it when he threw the rose in the fire after learning of Rozlyn’s indiscretion. But the most memorable part was undoubtedly the Cambodian chick from Santa Rosa, Calif. (current home of Guy Fieri, former home of yours truly) who told Jake — first in Cambodian! — that he could park his plane on her landing strip any time. I mean, admittedly, you need to think of something to say that separates you from the pack — I get that. And I *might* be tempted to lead with my first and last name and a wink-wink with its pornographic implications…should I ever find myself getting out of a limo in an evening gown to meet the Bachelor on Episode 1. But…words fail, Channy. As much as I’d like to believe in the power of reality TV show love, I hope for her sake that the show is scripted and someone put her up to it.

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Man and Lisa v. Food

So…I was sitting around watching TV last night with my cousin…and he has cable, so I was super-excited that I could shift between The Office and Man v. Food and The Little Couple and Keeping Up with the Kardashians

And as we were watching, Jen from The Little Couple talked about dating and said that she got to a point before she met Bill when she thought, “Maybe it’s just not going to happen for me…” and I thought, “Wow – I’ve been thinking that exact same thing…”

And then my cousin and I went back to Man v. Food and he said something like, “You should marry that guy. He lives in Brooklyn and he likes food.”

And, you know, I’ve seen Man v. Food before and I *have* thought that Adam Richman is kind of adorable. (I’ve also thought that he seems like a little bit of a manwhore, too, sometimes…but, then again, what hot-blooded New York male with a show on the Travel Channel isn’t a bit of a manwhore? [And I’m not so much of a prude that I can’t admit that if I was from Mars and didn’t hear my clock ticking loud and clear, I might be inclined to sow oats ‘til kingdom come, too…])

And…I also happened to be texting back and forth with a friend in Seattle last night…and I sort of busted his chops and he sort of busted mine and he finally wrote back something like, “You love me…” and I said, “I sure do…but, right this red hot minute, I’m also sort of loving Adam Richman…” and he said, “I’ll introduce you!” and I said, “Sure…great.” And he said, “No, really – I went to school with him…” and then I freaked out a little.

And, I mean, I realize the odds of it becoming Man and Lisa v. Food are pretty darn slim *and* that 2010 is supposed to be about me and me alone (to which my darling friend said, “Well, then I guess he’ll just have to pine away for you for twelve long months…”), but, heck, I’m not so much of a cynic that I can’t entertain the fanciful notion that maybe my friend has magical powers and/or got along super-well with Adam Richman at Yale and Adam Richman has fond memories of him and/or thought of him as something of a guiding life force and will listen with rapt attention when my friend says, “Hey, so, I have this adorable friend and you should meet her…” (I wasn’t sure whether my friend should lead with “adorable” or “pie-making” in his pitch, but my friend said adorable was the way to go…and then I pointed out that they say that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach but my friend argued that it is actually anatomically lower and so I amended my intro-to-Adam-Richman phrase. But this is a family blog, so we’ll leave it at that.)

And, you know, maybe it isn’t totally crazy and that blurb from The Little Couple and my cousin’s comment were fortuitous…and maybe Adam Richman will be totally intrigued by my pornographic name and he will totally have his taxi light on. And maybe this explains why the universe has spewed such tremendous man-crap at me over the past several  years – maybe it was all so I would truly appreciate Adam Richman when I had him.

Besides, think about all that Adam Richman and I have in common: Aside from food and travel, we both live in Brooklyn, we both used to live in Atlanta, we both have master’s degrees from Ivy League universities, we both describe ourselves as “a bit on the husky side” (okay, okay…I don’t actually do that…but I *did* eat a lot when I was depressed this summer…) and we are both brunettes. If *that* doesn’t spell out, “written in the stars,” I don’t know  *what* does.

So…I am going to amend my 2010 resolution slightly and say that I am going to be happy with me…and Adam Richman, too, should he happen to fall in my lap.

(Either way, I am excited about 2010. The buck stops in 2009, folks. I was watching Jersey Shore – I know! I know! But I’m working on a story about how MTV is leveraging all the online buzz to drive ratings, so I *had* to – and, you know, there’s tons of dramz: Sammi [the self-proclaimed “sweetest bitch you’ll ever meet”] gets in a fight with Ronnie because she sees him dancing with a girl at Karma and so she gives her phone number to her cop-friend and J-Woww [the one with two-toned hair and renegade boobs] sees and tells Ronnie to go “check his girl” and then he gets upset and leaves the club and so J-Woww goes after him because she doesn’t want him to be alone, but then someone tells Sammi that Ronnie left with J-Woww and *she* gets upset and goes to the house, too, and finds Ronnie and J-Woww in the same room and it’s terrible [which, tragically, is precisely why Ronnie said his one and only rule was not to fall in love at the Jersey Shore!], but then Ronnie feels bad and follows Sammi into the guest room and they make up…and, sure, I’m probably not going to draw *too* many life lessons from Snooki and the gang, BUT…I *did* sort of find wisdom in Sammi’s comment when she was upset about Ronnie and the Mystery Lady from the club [who I think ended up going home with The (poor) Situation who has abs of steel but still can’t seem to close the deal?] and she said something like, “He’s with another girl? No. That’s it. I’m done.” I wish *I* had the gall to say, “Look at how completely amazing I am! If you’re stupid enough to screw things up, I’m moving on! There are plenty of other fish in the sea!” Although…I guess that can be part of my I’m-going-to-be-happy-with-me resolution.)

(Adam Richman, you’ve been warned…[but I mean that in the nicest way possible…])

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Filed under Brooklyn, holidays, The Office

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

An Old Bar, A Misinterpreted Sign & Food That Makes Me Verklempt

I met The Bartender at the beginning of the year. And he was funny. And sweet. And he worked around the corner from my apartment — at the oldest bar in Brooklyn! — and so I started spending a lot of time there. And soon I found that he was also incredibly smart…and completely genuine. And before long, I adored him.

Thus began months of what was sometimes great and sometimes terrible…and always uncertain. No one believed it would work out — we had nothing in common…except maybe our childhoods. But I continued to believe that maybe he was the Steve to my Miranda (and I sort of cringe at applying a S&tC analogy, but it’s really the most apt comparison…)…because we were so good together…(when, you know, we actually were together). (And, hey — Paula Abdul and MC Skat Kat sang about basically the same thing.)

But then he’d disappear on me…and I’d be sad…and I’d call virtually everyone I know and sniffle about how I’d never love again or I’d send marathon emails that generated standard girl responses like, “He doesn’t deserve you!” and I’d try to start to figure out how I was going to get all of this out of my system. And then he’d pop up again and I’d be so, so happy…because, despite all the loosey-goosiness, I was happier with him than I’ve been in a long time…and I honestly thought we had something — *especially* when it turned out that one my best friends was the reporter for the Spanish language newspaper who interviewed him for a story about a crime in his neighborhood on her first day on the beat. The odds were infinitesimal! It *had* to be a sign! (Not unlike my very first date with the Englishman I almost married…when he was trying to come up with conversation and mentioned that he’d seen a movie  on TV over the weekend that was set in America. As he described it, I said, “Oh my gosh! A Time to Kill? They filmed that when I lived in Mississippi!” Of all the movies in the world, it was *that* one. I felt like it couldn’t *not* be the universe telling me to pay attention. And pay attention I did…and, two years later, I almost married the guy.)

But, in the end, I guess it wasn’t a sign with The Bartender. He made one final, brief return…only to disappear for good.  And now it’s hard to walk by the oldest bar in Brooklyn and know he’s right there…and it doesn’t matter.

I can’t not think about him every time I hear something about the Jets. (Lord, give me strength as football season starts…) And, whoa-ho, I will associate him with the Rangers for the rest of my life — there’s just no way around that. And I don’t really care about hockey all that much (which maybe is a sign that we *weren’t* meant to be…), so part of me was tempted to become a huge Giants fan (a giant Giants fan?) out of football spite, but…1) I don’t feel all that spiteful about The Bartender; and 2) Mark Sanchez is such a cutie! (Even though he went to USC…)

There are a lot of things I miss about The Bartender. (I actually had a dream last night that he came back…so I woke up this morning more wistful than usual…) And, yes, this is supposed to be a food-ish blog…so, dear reader, I give you some of the more culinary things I miss about him:

I can’t start with anything other than the lemon sorbet…which still sits in my freezer…and makes me think about him every time I open the door. The man actually loves his sherbet…but I couldn’t remember which one was his favorite when I popped into the bodega after a long day of playing baccarat…and the only sherbet available there had some sort of ripple in it…which seemed weird…so I opted for zesty lemon sorbet instead. And he was such a good sport about eating the sorbet even though it was the wrong one. (And…a bright side, I guess: I was actually able to eat some of it the other night without becoming a huge, sloppy mess…so maybe I’ll finally be rid of it before too long.)

That same night, I also got carded when I tried to buy him Coors Light — his beer of choice when he was poor. (When he had a little extra money to throw around, he liked Harpoon IPA or Brooklyn Lager. And…the only beer I really liked at *his* bar was Blue Moon. I can’t even tell you how many Blue Moons I had on his dime.)

I think of him whenever I order food from SeamlessWeb. We ordered food from there so many times — especially when he was hurt and wasn’t super-mobile. Plus, he was SO excited when he realized he could order food from there when he was at home, too, and his takeout options expanded exponentially.

There’s also the Thai place on Smith Street where we had our first official date…after hanging out at the oldest bar in Brooklyn for SO LONG. And he really surprised me — he was a pretty adventurous eater…which I wasn’t expecting as he was SO, SO conservative in real life that I assumed, like my father, he’d be all about meat and potatoes. Yet the man loved Thai food. And sushi. And was willing to try almost anything.

But…don’t get me wrong — he still liked meat. He was preparing to leave my apartment one Sunday afternoon to get home in time to hit up the grocery store when he said, “Boy am I tired of rice and beans. That’s all I can really afford now…so that’s all I’ve been eating for weeks.” So…I said, “You know I can cook, right?” and he said, “You’d cook for me?” to which I enthusiastically replied, “Of course I’d cook for you!”

What did he want? Meat. So…since he had just recently told me how much he liked lamb chops, I said, “Do you want me to make you lamb chops?” but he wouldn’t let me do that because he said they were too expensive…and then he remembered the Conan O’Brien Irish Beef Stew Recipe Scandal and said, “Maybe stew?”

I agreed…but the more I thought about it, the more it seemed weird to make stew in the spring — it’s a fall/winter comfort food! I wanted something more appropriate for a season of sunshine and rebirth…so I asked around. Flank steak seemed to be a big favorite…and then a friend told me that she had been at a dinner party recently with an Asian-style flank steak…and I recalled that my mother used to make an Asian-style flank steak that I liked a lot. My mom served it with rice though…and I couldn’t serve the poor man rice again, so I had to find a different side dish…and I was throwing around ideas like cucumbers with wasabi and rice vinegar

All week, I was sending him messages that went unresponded…but it wasn’t unusual for him not to write me back right away. “How do you feel about Asian-style flank steak? Will you eat that? Or is it too weird?” “If I marinate it, will you BBQ it? I am scared of BBQing.” Etc. And…as I was filling in for my old job that week, I had tentatively planned my grocery runs in between filing stories. I knew wasabi powder was going to be a long-shot at my everyday grocery store…but I figured I’d give Trader Joe’s a shot. And, bar that, I was pretty sure there was a spot on Atlantic Avenue with spices that would do the trick. And…as I planned out all of these intricate details and got more and more excited about Saturday night, I got a single message from him: “I think I’m going down to the Shore this weekend. Sorry.”

And then he disappeared for awhile. Not such a happy memory of him.

I *do* have a happy memory of his 30th birthday…which is one of the times he reappeared again. We’d gotten into a big fight about a week before…and then he hurt his foot at work…and I got a message saying he was in the emergency room…and that was it. All of my Mother Hen instincts kicked in, but there was nothing I could do. And I love birthdays! And this was such a big one! I wanted to do all sorts of crazy big things to celebrate and show him how much I cared about him. But, since he was gone, I figured I had to make plans to get far away from my apartment, or I’d spend the whole day holed up and sad about it. One of my classmates was having an annual bonanza at a farm upstate, so I decided to rent a car and make a key lime cheesecake to escape the city for a bit (with the very same Spanish language newspaper reporter who would later interview the Birthday Boy). But, alas, there was a snafu at the rental car place and the alternate route was too complicated…so I ended up staying home with the cheesecake. And then — lo and behold — he showed up on my doorstep. And I got to celebrate his 30th birthday with him after all…and I was so happy to see him again…although it was kind of morbidly ironic because he had been freaked out about turning 30 and getting old…and he needed a cane to walk with his busted foot. And then I offered to turn the Farm Cheesecake into Birthday Cheesecake…and he confessed the only cheesecake he ever liked is the one his mom makes…and I got really nervous…but, as luck would have it, he freaked out about mine. And I think he had a really good birthday.

I also think of him when I think of $2 kids’ hot dogs at Citizens Bank Park and my “Keep Drinking Until You Look Like John McCain Or Feel Like Cindy”-cup…and, of course, Coffee Talk. He did a Linda Richman impression that slayed me.

So…Mike Myers is no Bartender, but…indulge me in one last nod: Coffee Talk with Linda Richman.

Now talk amongst yourselves.

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