Tag Archives: New York

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

Roman Holiday

My latest Big Thought? Rome. I want to go to Rome.

It sounds like maybe Japan isn’t in the cards anymore…and I was happy as a little clam going all over creation last year. I’ve been in New York now for FOUR STRAIGHT MONTHS. It’s time to plan an escape.

And then yesterday, as I was finishing Frank Bruni’s Born Round (which isn’t about Rome outright…but there *is* a brief section on his tenure as the Rome Bureau Chief and he *does* hail from a large Italian family…), it hit me: I should go to Rome.

I really liked Bruni’s latest book — and not just because I once went to a party at the apartment he talks about in the final chapters. I totally get his relationship with food — from the late-night binges as a means of self-healing and escape to the cherished articles of clothing that allow you to hide your imperfections (my beloved cardigan was at the dry cleaner for four days and I almost died. And it didn’t help that I had a claim ticket that said it would be ready on Wednesday…and when I arrived on Wednesday to pick up aforementioned-blogged-about-beloved cardigan, the woman was on the phone forever and then gave me serious attitude — “This says Wednesday!” — which made me panic for a moment and think, “OhmygodisitTuesday?” but then I remembered that I had fake-gambled that morning for the first time that week, so it was definitely Wednesday and said as much and she said, “This means Wednesday NIGHT.” And so I waited another day…). And, I mean, Dude was the restaurant critic at Times, so I suppose he has a way with food words…but, man — his descriptions of meals in and around Rome seriously made me want to go (in some parallel universe in which I have unlimited cash and speak flawless Italian…[which reminds me of an old roommate’s friend from Rome who once taught me to say, “Stai fuori come una Jacuzzi in giardino!” which, if memory serves, translates to, “You’re out like a Jacuzzi in the garden!” and basically means, “You’re crazy!”]).

Missing Italy (and, frankly, Greece…and Ireland…and Norway…) is one of my big regrets from my two years in England. (But, at the same time, I was a poor student…so it’s not like I never got around to it…[again, it’s unfortunate we don’t live in that world in which I have lots of money and speak lots of languages]). And it’s crazy to think that’s been eight years since I’ve been back (which is all beginning to sound a lot like “New York, We Have to Talk,” isn’t it?)…

I’ve also heard a lot of talk lately about Eat, Pray, Love (once from a fake-gambler who vowed to punch the next middle-aged lady he sees on the train reading it…but also from a J-school colleague). And…gotta say: I was totally with Elizabeth Gilbert when she was in Italy. Gorging yourself on pasta and practicing Italian with a charming young man are two things that make absolute sense to me. (But, alas, I found I identified with her less and less as her journey went on…and, honestly, I thought she was kind of a jerk to the guru in Bali. I know he *expected* her to abandon him and move on…but, still…seemed a little mean to me to drop him like a bad habit as soon as she met the Old Guy…)

And…so, minus the Praying and the Loving, I wanna do it, too — I want to go to Italy and eat pasta and bread and cheese and gelato until I weigh twice as much as I did before. And I want to sit on the Spanish Steps. And I want to throw a coin in Trevi Fountain. And I want smarmy men with slick hair to tell me I’m beautiful even if they don’t mean it and I want to say, “Ciao!” and “Grazie!” and to ride on the back of a Vespa with Gregory Peck. And I want to marvel at old things.

So…perhaps the Big Birthday is a reasonable goal. What better way/place to usher in the next decade of my life than in the Eternal City?

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Filed under birthdays, books, Brooklyn

Proverbial Cojones…

I can’t say I ever watched “Ugly Betty” with any regularity…which I suppose makes me partially to blame for the show’s demise. But I always found it reliably enjoyable if I happened to catch it.

And that’s precisely what happened the other night for the big finale…and…I thought it was really sweet and poignant and wrapped everything up perfectly…(although I’m not sure about that hint of a Betty-Daniel romance…)

A couple of years ago, I was shopping with my mom and aunt and cousin…and my cousin said I reminded her of Ugly Betty — which I’m pretty sure she meant in a nice way, although my mom sort of jokingly gave her a hard time about it. And I returned to work shortly thereafter and told some colleagues about it and one said, “Well…you *do* have a firm moral center.”

And, I mean, I’m not entirely sure how I feel about that particular assessment…(Plus, I would be the most obnoxious person ever if I came online to tout my morality, wouldn’t I?) but I do feel — especially after “working” at various magazines — a certain affinity with Ms. Suarez. (I don’t have braces and a Guadalajara poncho…but there’s a certain shared black-sheep-ism, I think…)

And…the whole making-a-life-for-yourself theme hits close to home. (Plus, it’s New York. Plus, it’s a glossy.)

So…Spoiler Alert…

I’m really glad Betty went to London. And not just because I have a soft spot in my heart for all things English. I know how hard it is to make a big move on your own. (And I can’t even imagine how hard it would be if you had family nearby and had lived in ONE SINGLE PLACE your entire life…although I suppose that’s why it was so important that she actually made the big move.

So I watched Betty wave goodbye to her family and head to London alone…and knew *exactly* what she was feeling in the back of that car. I’ve made that precise move on my own. (In fact, I woke up that first day by myself in a foreign [albeit English-speaking] country and thought, “[Expletive!] What have I done??”) And it wasn’t even the first time I’d done something like that — two years prior, I’d moved to LA on my own…(and, subsequently, [obviously] I moved to New York by myself.) I guess I was always paranoid about missing out on some sort of life-changing experience and wanted to make sure I didn’t look back and wish I had done something I had avoided simply because it was too scary and didn’t want to leave the ol’ comfort zone. But, at the same time, those moves are really, really scary! (Which is also why I really liked Wilhelmina Slater’s “You’ve got big balls, Betty Suarez”-comment. [And Betty’s acknowledgment: “That’s the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me…”)

I also really liked the flash of just “Betty” at the end…a nice nod to her transformation. (Even though it perhaps takes *slightly* longer than four seasons to scale an actual, real life masthead…)

The universe hasn’t thrown any big, scary moves at me in a long time. And maybe it never will again. Maybe I’m meant to be in New York forever. I haven’t figured that out yet. And, while I like feeling like I have a home again, there’s still a certain appeal and excitement to starting over and discovering new things in a new place…but, as noted, nothing has presented itself yet, so…I guess I have to be patient until some big editor guy comes up to me and tells me that he’s starting a new publication and that I’d be perfect for it…

(PS: I knew Glee’s Emma looked familiar…but I only *just* made the connection that she was Henry’s rival love interest…)

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Filed under clothes, feminism, Red Hook, weight loss

This City Will Eat You Alive…

I was watching the Woody Allen flick, “Whatever Works,” last night…and sort of laughed to myself in the beginning when Larry David’s Boris Yellnikoff tells the ingenue transplant Melodie St. Ann Celestine that she should go back to Mississippi because she’ll never make it in New York.

Evan Rachel Wood and I have very little in common, but when *I* first moved here, my roommate’s parents told him that this city was going to “eat (*me*) alive,” too. So…I guess I felt a little pride when I realized that they made that comment almost — wait for it — seven years ago…and I’m still standing. I’ve heard you have to live in New York for ten years before you’re officially a New Yorker…so, I mean, I’m practically one of the gang by now. And I won’t beat a dead horse with my existential crises as of late…but, in the grand scheme of things, I’ve supported myself…I’ve hustled…and while everything’s really uncertain right NOW, there’s movement and I’m certainly not stuck in a rut. (Hey — look! — the glass *is* half full!) And it’s a nice feeling when anyone underestimates you and you prove them wrong…

…which got me thinking — I still need a book title. And perhaps some riff on “This City Will Eat You Alive,” is my answer. I sort of wish my name started with a “B” and I could do some sort of alliterative eponymous something-or-rather with Baking…(which is not to say I don’t love the name Lisa Lacy…because — believe me — I love the name Lisa Lacy…)…but…it just seems like it must have been sooo easy for Julie Powell! Why couldn’t I know someone or like to do something that starts with “L”??

There are so many themes in my book — career/quest for fulfillment, relationships/man-crap, baking/therapy… — that it seems nearly impossible to sum it all up with some sort of pithy phrase.

I tried to brainstorm with a friend this weekend…and really came up with a whole lot of nothing. A few favorites: “I Ate, I Drank, I Messed Around,” and “Brooklyn, Baking and Love-Making” (even though neither one of us can stand the phrase “make love.” It seems vaguely creepy to me…and like an unnecessary distinction…and I don’t think I could take anyone serious who used it colloquially. Although…come to think of it, I don’t have any friends that do. Guess we’re a crass bunch.).

But…”This City Will Eat You Alive” — while not perfect in and of itself — contains two major themes: the urban landscape and food(-ish)…which might work with a few minor tweaks. And then I started thinking about my “evolution” over the last seven years…which obviously brings to mind Darwin…but I think it would be a little much to call my first book, “On the Origin of Lisa Lacy.”

And that in and of itself is sort of stream of consciousness…which is not unlike my style…but there’s little you can do with “Stream of Consciousness,” and, as much as I heart Modernism, I can’t very well draw any direct comparisons to Virginia Woolf…in good, ahem, conscience.

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Filed under Brooklyn, Modernism, Red Hook

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

Sad(der) Lisa and the Case of the Missing Books

I’ll preface this by saying I know everyone is sick to death of hearing about the Bartender. And I know I need to figure out a way to finally, officially let go and move on with my life. And — other than the fact that his bar is right around the corner from where I live and I have to walk by it/him virtually every day — I don’t know why it’s over two months later and I’m still struggling. I guess part of it is that it was the first time I really thought I was on to something good in a long, long time…and he’s somebody I care about. A lot. It’s hard for me to just turn that off and pretend it never happened.

But…I bring him up again — for what I will (try to) promise will be the last time — for two reasons: (1) It always makes me feel better to write things out; and (2) I have found no one really gives a hoot when I blog about food anyway.

My oldest childhood friend will be here tomorrow…and we have several days to pal around in New York before Costa Rica on Thursday…and I am hopeful I will return from this adventure with a new lease on life. Maybe we can perform some sort of ritualistic exorcism that will make me forget he exists. And/or maybe the guy who cut my hair was right and in another week, my life will change forever — even on the man-front.

Until then, I will write, I guess.

There were MANY things the Bartender and I did not have in common. Politics was one of them. He claimed to be a Republican…but I think he was much more moderate than he let on. Let’s face it — I have pretty strong opinions about woman-y things and I really couldn’t stand to be around somebody who told me I should be seen and not heard and the like. Granted, he had a McCain/Palin poster in his apartment, but I think part of his conservative fervor was also that he wanted to set himself up as a counterpoint to the young, urban, liberal hipster archetype.

The Bartender was also very opinionated and liked to talk a lot. In fact, once he told me on my little red couch that he liked our conversations because we didn’t argue — we had friendly debates that made him think about things in new ways. (But I will have to watch myself when it comes to making comments like that or I’m going to get nostalgic.)

And…one of my J-school professors is really into social justice-y topics and wrote a book called, “Denison, Iowa,” on — you guessed it — a year in the life of this Midwestern town. I’m not Amazon, so this may not be an entirely accurate recollection, but, basically…my memory of it is that Denison‘s claim to fame is that it’s the birthplace of Donna Reed and so for many, many years it was this wholesome, traditional Midwestern town with wholesome, traditional Midwestern people and wholesome, traditional Midwestern values…and then a bunch of meatpacking plants popped up and immigrants started moving there for jobs and the social dynamics of the town changed considerably. So…my professor spent a year living there during this period of flux and sort of sat back and watched all these changes and the related drama. He illustrated it all with a number of characters in town like the young Latino guy who wanted to start his own business — and so there was all this intrigue about whether he would qualify for the loan in the end…and there was, like, a retired schoolteacher who had lived in Denison her entire life and who started teaching English classes at night…and there was also, like, the crooked cop who hated everyone who wasn’t white. That’s basically the gist.

And so — because the Bartender and I were allegedly on opposite sides of the political spectrum, I was curious what he’d think about this book. So…I let him borrow it. But…when I gave it to him, I said, “My professor wrote this, so I’d really like it back…” and then, half-jokingly, I added, “So, you know, if anything happens while you’re reading this and you decide you hate me and never want to see me again, will you please just, like, leave it in my mailbox or something? I really want it back.” And, of course, he looked at me with a big frowny face and said, “Nooo! That’s not going to happen! You worry too much!”

But sometimes the worrier is right and — sure enough — something happened and he decided that he hates me and never wants to see me again. But not before I let him borrow yet another book…which I’ve been saying is one of my favorites, but I’m not positive that’s entirely true. I just like it a lot and would like it back, too. And you’d better believe that even in the middle of our hours-long, tear-filled, “I don’t understand why you ‘can’t'”-goodbye, I let him know that I wanted those books back. He promised he’d get them to me. That was August 20.

I sent a reminder or two. Nothing.

Then…there was the whole end-of-birthday debacle in September.

So. I decided I would give him a good month-long cushion of no Lisa and then I would make one final plea for those books.

And — this is how crazy I am — both our final fight and my birthday are even-numbered days, so I thought, “Maybe if I wait until an odd day, I’ll have better luck!” Plus, November 5 is Javier Lopez‘s birthday and I figured I could, like, channel Javy for strength.

But before I actually had a chance to send him anything that day, lo and behold, I was on my way to meet the Greeting Card Emergency guy and I saw a man walking towards me with a Yankees hat and a cigarette and I thought, “Ohmygod, is that the Bartender?” and then he adjusted his backpack and I realized that, yes, it *was* him and so I got out my phone, but I had no new messages and then we passed by each other and had an eight-word conversation — “How are you?” “Fine. You?” “Fine.” “Books?” “Okay.” — and I turned the corner and my legs turned to jelly and I hyperventilated a little.

I got a new phone post-Bartender and his number is not in it. I had all these messages from him on the old one that I couldn’t bear to delete, but…my memory was full and so every time I’d get a new message it would say, “Memory Low! Delete messages now!” and I would say, “I don’t want to delete any messages!” and so my solution was to just get a new phone. No messages from him in there. No reminders of him.

But I still have that old phone. So…I figured there was no harm in retrieving his number and using the “use once” feature to send a message to that 347-number that I cannot save again. It was perfectly friendly — just to acknowledge that we’d seen each other and it was fine and — I know this is beating a dead horse, but — I’d really appreciate getting those books back.

So, later that very same day, I wrote him something along the lines of…”Hey — I hate to be a pain, but my professor wrote one of those books and the other is one of my favorites and it would mean a lot if I could get them back.” And that’s probably all a normal person would write, but I went on to say that besides making me really happy, I would imagine getting rid of the books would be cathartic and then he’d be free of it all and wouldn’t have any reminders of anything unhappy…and I said that I hoped all was well and that I seriously meant it because I never wanted anything but the best for him…and to prove that very point, I told him how happy I was that Pettitte pitched such a good game and that Matsui hit so well and the Yankees won, in part because I knew how happy it must have made him.

No response. No books.

So…I waited for another odd-numbered day (I hope I do not get, like, institutionalized for admitting that) and sent another message: “Please, T, please? Those books? I’m leaving the country on Thursday. Can I have them back before then?” (If I have to go pick them up at his bar, it would be great to have my oldest childhood friend there with me to figuratively hold my hand…)

But, again, nothing. Radio silence.

And, okay, I guess I have a reputation for being a clingy girl and understand that maybe he’s worried that responding will only fuel the fire and it’s easier to just press “delete” and pretend it never happened. But…it seems to me that the nice thing to do would be to say, “Okay,” or “Sure,” or SOMETHING — even leaving the books in my mailbox in the dark of night. After all, he gets off work at 4:00 AM on the weekends…

And I know I threw a lot of crazy his way, but I was also really good to him — I dropped off pie on National Pie Day because he had to work and couldn’t come to my celebration and I made him cheesecake and planned an elaborate dinner (with meat!) when he was hurt and out of work and poor and sick of eating rice and beans…and I sent him postcards from all of my travels this summer and I spent a small fortune on Yankees tickets for his birthday because he turned 30 and I wanted to do something big and because he hadn’t been to the new stadium and I wanted him to see it. And, you know, I did those things because I care about him and wanted to make him happy, not for future leverage in case I didn’t get my books back…and I was really happy to have somebody to care about and to be able to do those things for, you know? But I don’t understand how it could have devolved into this. My worst nightmare is someone saying, “I can’t love you,” and walking out the door and disappearing forever…and that’s exactly what happened.

I’m not holding out hope he’s going to knock on my freakishly small door and say, “I made a huge mistake!” But it seems pretty rotten to me to just ignore me. I could understand if I was texting him with, “I miss you! Please take me back!” or “Screw you, you manwhore! And give me back my goddamn books!”

But I’m not. I’m trying to be civil…and since I was the one who was so horribly hurt in this escapade, I thought being friendly and nice now would be kind of olive-branch-y, you know? Like, saying, “Yes, I know I was a huge mess the last time you saw me, but I’m basically okay now!”

So…last night, I was debating what to do…and then I got a call from an old coworker saying, “Hey! I just had dinner in your neighborhood — are you around?” So…I met him around the corner from my apartment and he said, “Where should we go?” and I said, “Anywhere but here!” and nodded toward the Bartender’s place. So…we walked up the street to another place…and we talked and caught up and drank…and he really likes my stories, so he always laughs and tells me how funny I am (last time he praised my comic timing — how about that??)…and I hadn’t seen him in awhile, so it was really nice. And…I don’t know how many beers later, I was telling him about trying to get my books back and we had already been out for a good, long time, so we were getting ready to leave…and as I was pointing him to the Subway, the neon lights at the Bartender’s bar shone brightly in the distance and I got all nostalgic and my old coworker said, “We should go in and have one last drink there!” and I said, “Oh, I don’t know…bad things happen when I go into that place…” and he said, “Come on — it’ll be good for you. And I’ll talk to him! I’ll help you get your books back!” And whenever I’m willing to go there, I should always remember that it means I am in no shape to be making decisions like that. But I agreed to go.

It wasn’t particularly crowded…so we were able to get two seats at the bar. The Bartender was behind the bar, but he wouldn’t have anything to do with me. He’s a pretty jealous guy…and, in hindsight, I realized I’ve always gone in there with girlfriends…and so I guess it could have looked like I was on a date or something and that I was rubbing it in his face.

He was wearing a Yankees World Series sweatshirt…so — see? I was right. He *was* really excited. And his stupid boss came out at one point and saw me there and was LOVING the fact that I was there with some guy and that the Bartender wouldn’t acknowledge me.

And, really, I’ve made a complete fool of myself at that place SO MANY times because of him. So they’ve  probably come to expect it of me. And, really, comparatively speaking, this time wasn’t that bad. I didn’t talk to the Bartender. But my old coworker did. And he came back to me and said, “You’ll get your books on Monday. But we should probably go now.”

And then I wanted to know what my old coworker had said and what the Bartender had said…and my old coworker was saying that, you know, he’s no good and I need to move on…blah, blah…and somehow I ended up crying on the sidewalk outside again and blathering on about how I don’t understand how you can just throw somebody away…and that he was always so good with my cat and that even when the little monster bit him, he’d be so patient and kind and call them “love bites,” and I feel like I’m depriving my cat of a father figure now…(see how much sense I was making?)

I’m very stubborn. I need to just accept that I’m never going to understand this and that I’ve already wasted too much energy trying to figure it out. And, I mean, some good came out of the Bartender situation — I was finally able to look at my life and what I actually have control over and realized how important it is to me to finish my book…and I’m so close! I’m almost there! And I know my poor little heart can’t go through something like this again…so next time I have to be really, really careful and — like my friend says — protect it.

I just feel a little more sad than usual today about the whole situation. And it won’t be the end of the world if I don’t get these books back. But I don’t understand why things are the way that they are…and how caring about him became this horrible, unforgivable thing…for which I have now been banned from his life.

So…even after that makeover, I’m not sure if I really am New Lisa after all. I am hoping that Costa Rica and my oldest childhood friend will change that. (And, if nothing else, I will try to find solace in knowing that my hair looked damn good last night.)

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Filed under Alaska, baseball, birthdays, books, Brooklyn, cheesecake, feminism, Iowa, Javy, Palin, pie

Good Eats: Or, New York with Bobby, Junior, Florence, Mario and Tina.

So…my mother was here last week, which means I got to indulge in a New York lifestyle drastically different from the norm. To wit: I got up and dressed every single day and didn’t once look for a job or do any copywriting or tinker with my book proposal. Instead, I went to restaurants under the purview of celebrity chefs and saw shows on Broadway. I would imagine I would eventually run out of shows and/or get bored if this was my regular life, but…from here, the grass looks pretty green.

Our first stop was Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill. I’ve probably walked by this place a million times, but I’ve never been inside. However, I’ve been meaning to ever since I was at work (or in a class) once and my mom was exploring the city on her own and stumbled upon it and was super-excited and ended up doing a big, brave thing and eating there on her own. So…after six years, I finally ate there. I was really happy with my chile relleno — stuffed with eggplant and rolled in cornmeal! — but my mom was a little disappointed with her sweet potato ravioli…which was a shame as it is the one dish that jumped out on the menu to me, too. I’ve sort of had a complex about chile rellenos since eating at a Mexican restaurant in Wisconsin that served an extremely eggy one. As we all know, I HATE EGGS. So…it freaked me out and sort of put me off chile rellenos for a while. But my mother quoted somebody — possibly Bobby Flay — who said that you really shouldn’t be able to taste the egg in a good chile relleno…and she/he was right. (I also really enjoyed the barbed-wire tiles in the bathroom. Nice touch, BF.)

That night we went to the Grand Central Oyster House…which is another one of those places I have heard about for ages but have never actually tried. I don’t honestly remember where all of the oysters came from — although I’m pretty sure two were from the East coast and two were from the West. Either way, it came with mignonette…which is my favorite part about oysters. I had it for the first time at Elliott’s Oyster House in Seattle years ago…and that was it. I was sold. I also had scallops (which I am told my father liked…which is worth mentioning solely because the whole reason my mom came out to NY was to walk with me in the Light the Night Walk in his memory/honor and so I could perhaps exorcise a demon or two) and my mom got a white fish that came with chunks of bacon on top. Both, again, were very, very good…and we were early because we had tickets to Jersey Boys (still hadn’t seen it!) and I imagine it gets pretty cozy in there as the night goes on, but it seems like it would be fun to meet up there for drinks and oysters after work someday. (Also? There is a red lip-shaped couch in the bathroom.) After the show, we hit up Junior’s for cheesecake…and my mom was very excited to see an autographed photo from Bobby Flay. So…it was like the whole day came full circle.

The next day we got lunch at Bagels by the Park and headed out for the God of Carnage matinee. (Loved it! So good! And so funny! Despite the sort of Heart-of-Darkness point of it all…) We had some time to kill afterward, so we hit up the Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museum in Times Square (it was either that or Madame Tussaud’s…and the guy at the door gave us $5 off each ticket)…and I guess we should have known better as it was pretty much a huge letdown. Or, rather, there was a lot of uncomfortable stuff: people with really unfortunate physical abnormalities; a room that traps you inside; torture devices; and weird medical situations. There was one breast implant display with a pair of boobs that inflated at the push of a button…otherwise, a big miss. Then I tried to take Ma to the Rainbow Room, but it’s apparently closed for awhile? (Kind of ironic that the Web site says, “Then. Now. Forever,” eh?) And so we opted instead for the revolving lounge atop the Marriott Marquis…and wouldn’t you know it? Florence Henderson was there. Small world. So…we had a drink there and tried to determine which building was which and whether Florence did anything besides the Brady Bunch and Wesson Oil (I have a “Christmas Carols” refrigerator magnet that includes Ms. Henderson, Carol Burnett, Carol Channing and Carroll O’Connor).

THEN we went to Mario Batali’s Spotted Pig as my mom really, really, REALLY likes Mario Batali. We had to wait at the bar for a bit, but it wasn’t a big deal as two seats opened up right away…almost like fate! We had oysters *again* and my mom was thinking about getting pork belly, but our server told us it was pretty fatty…so she ended up with a fish again and I got chorizo-stuffed quail with goat cheese pudding. Pretty amazing. Although the kitchen was churning out burger/fries like they were going out of style. And the guy at the table next to us could not have been any more smarmy and sort of reminded me why I’ve vowed to be the Lone Wolf for awhile. (We also finished things off with a stop by Magnolia Bakery so my mother could have one of the cupcakes made famous by you-know-what.)

On our last full day, we had a late lunch at Chevy’s and dinner after the walk (So cold! But Tina Fey was there!) at an Italian restaurant in my neighborhood that Guilia Melucci wrote about in “I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti.” We had tried to get in to Buttermilk Channel, which used to be a place called Cafe Scaramouche where I had brunch sort of on a regular basis with my friend Bob and ordered pancakes with caramelized orange peel that he called “pancakes in drag.” But it’s apparently quite a hot spot as the wait was an hour and we were cold, starving walkers, so we sought out the quiet Italian joint.

And then that was it. Mom went back to Tucson and I went back to reality. Still have a little linguine left over…but then it really is back to my own cookin’. Good thing I’m still really excited about my Trader-Joe’s-in-the-middle-of-the-day epiphany…

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Filed under books, Brooklyn, cheesecake, cupcake, eggs, fish, Food Network, pork