Thursday, December 30, 2010

Today's Weather Report

Brought to you by.... The SUN!

YAY!  Finally, the sun peeked out, and our cold snap (cross your fingers) is over!

Most of today was sunny, with a light breeze.
Temperature inside = 72F
Humidity inside = 64%

Weather Opinion: YAY!
Weather Advice:  Go Outside and Play!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


Our first visit to Costa Rica was nearly 5 years ago - oh, how things change!  Our original plan was to pack up everything, sell the house, ship all our stuff to Costa Rica, and settle in.  We ended up doing things a *lot* differently!  We did what I now call a "slow move" - in the first 4 years, we made several trips, living in different towns each time.  Each new time, we brought suitcases of things we missed the last time.  Some places were furnished, some were not.  As we bought and brought the few necessities, subsequent trips back to the states meant we had to find a place to store our Costa Rican things.  First we left a few bins with friends, then we rented a small storage area.  On the other end, when we finally moved out of our state-side house, we also stored a few items - we used these basics each time we came back.  We finally trimmed our state-side stuff down to less than half a storage unit, and... YES! *Shipped* our stuff!

The main reason for shipping via container, instead of continuing our suitcase method was that we finally decided it was worth it to move our mattress here.  And, of course, it is too big to ship any other way.  You may think "gee, they're awfully attached to a mattress!"  - and you would be right :-D.  We looked at mattresses here, and found one that was close enough.  If we hadn't already owned one with plenty of use left in it (stored in the states), we would have bought the one here - it was a cushy king for $1600, at Artistica.  When we checked around on shipping costs, we found that we could get our mattress here for about a third of that.  On top of that, we weren't going to use it anymore in the states, and there was no good way to get rid of it - basically, you can't give it away, and you have to pay to take it to the dump!

Once the decision was made (waaaaay back in August!), we found that it was worth it to add in a few more items - there was room in the container (shared with others), and didn't add unreasonably to the cost.  We said we could wait for several months until the others were ready to ship.  Fortunately we really were flexible on the date, because it moved - first it was going to be late September.  Then late October, then mid-November, then late November... Right before Christmas, we heard that the container was in Costa Rica, and would get through customs the next week.  Frankly, we were surprised, because most government offices are completely shut down the last half of December and the first week of January (and very slow on either end!).  But I guess customs is a different story.  Maybe...

Sooooo... NOW Anticipation *strikes!*  If all went as planned (snort), we could have our things delivered Monday, or maybe Tuesday.  We don't hold our breath, but we do move some furniture around and out of the way.  Tuesday comes. And goes.  Now Wednesday...  Don't start thinking about unpacking.  Don't start imagining feasting your eyes on long-stored books.  Don't, and I mean *really* don't think about falling into sleep, blissfully tucked between your favorite comforter and your oh-so-perfect-for-you mattress!

Monday, December 27, 2010

San Jose Tope

The day after Christmas, San Jose has its big Tope (horse parade)!  This year they expected over 6,000 participants, and many many more in the crowd.  Check out this short video someone took at this year's tope - click here.  Notice how windy and chilly it is...

Here are some pictures from last year - notice the sun :-)

Weather report:  overcast, drizzly, 70 km/h wind, 62F outside (normal for December is 72F), 66F inside, 66% humidity
Weather opinion:  UGH!
Weather advice:  stay inside, bake something, go see the tope next year :-S

Friday, December 24, 2010

A New One!

Look what I brought home!

I started this in *October!*  I finally finished it - now it needs framing.  But I think I'll keep it on my wall for a little while before I cart it off again.

PS - this one is acrylic on canvas, 16" x 20"

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


I've been framed!  Well, a couple of my paintings have been, anyway ;-)

My new life now includes painting sessions with my "painting buddy" - I feel I can say that I paint now because I go to friend Linda's place almost every Friday, and we spend the day just painting - it's officially one of those pass-times that get me into "the zone," and nothing else enters my sphere of awareness - how wonderful to have found another of those :-D.

The nice thing is that I have an awful lot of bare walls to fill up, and Rick seems to like what I paint.  I looked around a bit for a framing place.  I had no idea of what was a reasonable cost, and what could be done with a painting, so it took some looking, asking and comparing.  At the high end was an art gallery in San José - they would mat and frame with glass my small painting for c20,000 (about $40).  I kept that in mind, and checked in (and tried to check in) at a couple of other places.  I finally took my painting to:

Miró Galeria y Enmarcado
San Pedro, Barrio La Garanja,
de Ferreteréa El Mar 100 sur y 25 este
2280-0672 / 2283-8081

They quoted c9,000 ($18) for double-mat, non-glare glass and frame.  They even have a discount for artists who are framing their own work!  Hmmm - I left my painting there, and picked it up a week later.
I decided to leave my next one too!  (The larger one was c15,000, and ready in 2 weeks because of the Xmas season.)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Fruit Pudding - Yummmm!

Fruit Pudding

Cook over low heat, about 5 minutes, till bubbly and fully incorporated:
  • 1/2 - 3/4 cup mashed fruit*
  • 1 Tablespoon sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon butter
Cover bottoms of 4-6 ramekins with mixture, and set aside.

1 cup water
6 Tablespoons powdered whole milk
2 Tablespoon sugar
6 egg yolks
dash salt
1 cup mashed fruit*
1/4 cup Flor de Caña 7 year old rum

Mix water and milk (I like to put them in a lidded jar, and shake it well).  In a heavy pan, scald milk with sugar. Beat egg yolks with salt until very thick. With wire whip, quickly stir a small amount of hot milk mixture into the yolks, then add the yolks slowly to the hot milk mixture, while stirring quickly.  Cook on low heat, stirring gently, a minute or two.  Strain pudding and return to clean pan.
Add rum and fruit; stirring gently, cook 2-3 minutes until pudding thickens.
Pour into ramekins, over the fruit mixture. Cover and chill.
Makes 4-6 servings.

* Fruit - I used mashed bananas.  Other fruit to try:  mango, strawberries, papaya, starfruit (seeded), or any other easily-mashable fruit. 

  • The rum could be removed (add 1 Tablespoon vanilla) or changed to go with the fruit (Grand Marnier comes to mind). 
  • Likewise, you can add any spices that seem to go, like cinnamon with papaya.  Or fresh chopped mint with starfruit.
  • You can mix fruit as well:  try sliced kiwis in the bottom, and mashed strawberries in the pudding. Or pineapple/papaya.  Or... :-)
  • Normally, whole milk is made using 3 tablespoons of powder to 1 cup water.  Doubling the powder like this makes it creamier.
  • This can also be served hot.
  • I did something similar using Miel de Chiverri (available around Easter in Costa Rica) - it was ok, but needed something (not yet sure what that is).
  • You can freeze the egg yolks if you first mix them with the sugar.  Then just put them and the salt right in the pan when heating the milk.  They can even still be slightly frozen!  If you do this, do *not* skip straining the mixture!

Replacing Glassware: the Never-Ending Story

Clink, clink, CRASH!  There goes another one!

Tile floors and glassware just do not mix!  I love tile floors for so many reasons, but there is just that one thing that I would like to be different.  One little bout of fumble-fingers, and your glass is toast.  Then you have to wear shoes around the house for a few days while the glass slivers overcome their shyness.

The fortunate thing is that we got over any sentimentality long ago - glasses are just glasses.  When we run low, we make a run to the store and stock up again. 

And we do run low - I think my record is three broken glasses in two days.  One glass made it through a single pouring of wine before it cracked.  We still have one glass from our original batch, but I'm thinking of getting a pool going for it's crash date...

Friday, December 17, 2010

Paradise Redeemed

Most of this week, it has been colder than aich-ee-double-toothpicks!  ehm, in the Nordic sense, that is.  But today!  Ahhh today!  Paradise has redeemed itself!  The air was soft again, the sun was out, and my sweater found its way into my carry bag and stayed there. 

On top of all that lovely-weather-ness, my day was pretty much paradisaical from a "what's happening" point of view too :-).  My morning was slow - trying experiments with showers, coffee, breakfast, etc to try to break some nasty headache / acidic stomach issues.  Not so lovely, but the great thing is that we have the ability to actually try these different things - not possible in our old life...

Then, while I'm waiting for my bus, my fellow bus-waiter and I start chatting... in Spanish, and I'm holding my own!  Turns out, we are heading to nearly the same place - and it's two buses away!  So, we sit together, talking more, then walk to our next bus, still talking, then ride out... Ultimately, I'm speaking Spanish with someone, making more sense than not, understanding almost everything, for almost 2 hours - I feel all warm and fuzzy :-).

Next, I catch my 3rd bus of the morning, alone this time, but with my new French book.  I make it through a couple of pages before my stop (hmmm, that's half an hour, if you're wondering how fast I can read).  I absorbed more summer sun for a few minutes, then my paint-buddy picked me up, we went back to her house, had an *excellent* lunch, and then painted for the afternoon! 

I finished (and signed - very important to do) my canvas, a collage of flowers, then started on a new project.  I'm trying out acrylics on broadcloth - I plan to stitch it to some vanes, and have my very own hand-fan; just in time for summer :-)

The weather held all afternoon and into the evening - I caught my return buses without too much delay (I suppose I've just gotten used to my neighborhood bus being perpetually late - sigh).  Rick had some wine chilling, so we got caught up over a nice glass or two, had dinner, watched a couple of TV shows, and relaxed! Oh yeah, brownies for dessert! :-D.

Does it get much better than that?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Too Cold to be Paradise?

*Everyone* is talking about the cold weather this week!   Yesterday, the temperature broke a 15-year COLD record here in Costa Rica - It was 50 (FIFTY) degrees in the central valley! 

Yeah, yeah, I know - you folks in the states and Europe are laughing in a puzzled manner, rolling your eyes so far back into your heads, you're getting a headache...

I would be too, except that I'm *here!* Costa Rica is not set up for this - we don't have insulation, no central heat (or *any* heaters, for that matter), *and* our houses are made for maximum ventilation - those super leaky windows that are great in warm weather don't serve too well this week.  We don't have parkas, gloves, or snow boots.  The lucky few who suffered before and remembered, have sweatsuits and slippers (yay!).

Thankfully, giving baked goods is something of a tradition at this time of year.  I'm taking full advantage of that.  Yesterday, the inside temperature upon waking, nose peeping out of quilts and thermal blankets, was 66 degrees F.  We went out for lunch and supplies (biting wind and total-sun-blocking clouds added to the cold).  Then, yay! I baked all afternoon - brownies, zapote cake, and ginger snaps.  Peak inside temperatures (outside the kitchen) made it all the way up to .... 76 degrees!!!!

Overnight temperatures inside plunged again - 65 degrees.  Fortunately, I have a looooong list of things left to bake.  I already started on the cornbread, and have plans for more brownies and cookies...

Zapote Cake - Improving!

My first experiment with a zapote cake was pretty good, but I felt it could be improved :-).  I felt that the pecans overwhelmed the cake, as did the rum sauce, and the zapote flavor was lost.  I made a few changes (underlined below) - this cake is *amazing!*  I had thought about adding some spices, but am glad I resisted.  The carambola adds a bit of tartness that brings out the zapote, and the coconut and raisins add just enough "other" flavor. 

Zapote Cake with Carambola Sauce

Mix in a large bowl:
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 1/4 cup flour
- 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 Tbs powdered whole milk

Mix in a smaller bowl:
- 2 Tbs melted butter
- 2 cups Zapote pulp*
- 1 tsp vanilla

Stir the wet ingredients into the dry, then add:
- 1/2 cup grated coconut (unsweetened)
- 1 cup raisins

Pour batter into 2 loaf pans, and bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees (F) for 70 minutes.  The cakes should be very moist, but with a hard surface.  Cool slightly in the pans, then refrigerate, turn out and slice.

Serve with warm Carambola Sauce spooned over (microwaving for 10 seconds works great).

Carambola Sauce

Mix in a heavy saucepan:
3/4 cup Carambola pulp**
1/2 cup sugar
Combine and heat on low, stirring constantly, until thickened (stop just before it boils). Let cool, serve while still slightly warm.

* for zapote pulp, blend pieces of peeled zapote with enough water to facilitate movement.  It will be creamy and fluffy.

** Carambola is a tart tropical fruit, also known as starfruit. For pulp, dump clean, chopped fruit pieces into a blender, add enough water to facilitate blending. Blend, then strain.  No need to peel or seed the fruit first.
CAUTION!!! If you take statins (or other medications), check with your doctor - like grapefruit, carambola can significantly increase the effective dosage within the body.

Monday, December 6, 2010

French Student Party

Thursday, the Alliance Française in Costa Rica threw a year-end party for all the French students - what a blast!  Everyone was "encouraged" (we weren't *actually* threatened) to dress up as something that started with either "A" or "F" - in French, bien sûr! 

Then the students had a little "show" and contest - the "artichoke / artichaut" won for the "A's"

The "cheese / fromage" won for the "F's"
And the "Black Angel / Ange Noir" won for (darned if I know what the third group was!)

I went as "l'Abondance," and carried a jazzed-up cornucopia, wore a harvest crown, and (of course!) carried a glass of wine! :-)

My teacher and her fiancé came as a flower and martial artist...
I found some friends from previous classes too!
And caught some candids...

Oh yes!  One other thing - there was a raffle, and I won a gift certificate to a *very* nice French restaurant - Le Monastère.  Sounds like I'd better pass my finals...

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Exploring South

Jim came to visit last week!  He has a finca (farm or acreage) in Ojochal that he needed to check on, and invited us along for the ride - what an interesting whirlwind that was!

We met him at the airport, went and got his rental car together, and headed out of town - Friday afternoon traffic struck, as did the rain, but we still got to Ojochal in 4 hours.  Ojochal is on the Pacific coast, a little over an hour South of Quepos.  It's up the hill, about 700 feet, and the sea breeze keeps everything very comfortable (of course, the air conditioned car didn't hurt :-D ).

After all the recent heavy rains, we were lucky that the roads were all open.  Several places had restrictions while the road was being worked on, and we could see the remnants of quite a few mudslides.  We got to Ojochal a little after dark, had dinner, and went on to our hotel.  Diquis del Sur is run by a charming Québécois couple, Renée and Pierre.

The next morning, we relaxed over breakfast and enjoyed the view while Jim met with his property manager.  After a while, we packed up and headed out to the finca.  We drove up a dirt road, pulled to the side, and got out.  Alongside the road was a river, about 25 feet wide and 2 feet deep - and yes, the finca was on the other side!  Fortunately, I had on shorts and water shoes, and the water was simply refreshing :-).  Unfortunately, the water washed off all my bug repellent!  I ended up with about a dozen bites - the fire finally banked after about 5 days.  Aside from that, tramping around the finca was fun - we saw some of the new fruit trees and pineapple plants that had been planted - even brought home a big bunch of bananas (ripening as we speak on my back terraza).

We originally were going to spend the rest of the day at the beach, and another night in Ojochal, but decided to explore a bit farther - we had never been in the area, so *everything* was new!  So, the plan was to go on to San Vito, near the Panama border, stay the night, then drive back to San José through the mountains and San Isidro de El General.  Well, we were all set to drive off, when someone mentioned that the buses to San Vito were coming along the coast road - that could only mean one thing - the inland road between San Isidro and San Vito was closed or very restricted.  Hmmm.  Time for plan B (or is that C now?). 

We decided to spend a little time in San Isidro.  A couple of hours and several road restrictions later, we were hunting for a hotel.  We drove past a few, looked in at one, and ended up at the Hotel Diamante Real (2770-6230 / 2770-6232), a decent, somewhat generic hotel, pretty close to the center of town.  We walked around, had dinner, and found out that San Isidro has a lively music scene!  Our restaurant ("gato" something, near the hotel) turned into a jazz club after 8:00 :-).

The next morning, we walked around a bit more, then took off for San José.  I had heard about this road - horror stories!  It passes over Cerro de los Muertos at about 11,000 feet, and very near Cerro Chirripó, the highest point in Costa Rica at 12,228 feet.  I know now what it looks like above the timber line in Costa Rica - glimpses of shrubs between banks of fog... :-D  BTW, the horror stories are all about the fog, slick roads, and steep drop-offs - don't take the name (los muertos = the dead) to mean that ghosts stalk the unwary traveler :-).

A bit over 3 hours later, we were relaxing at home in San José, eating a late Sunday lunch.  We have a number of places to return to, and a lot of things to do when we do return!

Driving directions from San José (the airport) to Ojochal, Playa Tortuga, South Pacific, Costa Rica:
  1. Head North from the San Jose airport (towards Alajuela-Puntarenas)
  2. Continue driving for 11 kilometers
  3. You should see a sign pointing right (La Garita, Atenas)
  4. Exit the highway to the right and make a left turn (direction Atenas-Quepos)
  5. Continue driving on the main road for 2.5 kilometers
  6. Turn left towards Turrucanes
  7. Continue driving for 3.5 kilometers, passing under the highway, and turn left in downtown Turrucanes.  Maneuver the two rotundas to get onto the highway (autopista) Caldera in the Caldera direction.
  8. Continue driving on the highway until you see the exit for Jaco
  9. Continue driving on the main road, signs are pointing to Quepos 103 kilometers and Jaco 37 kilometers
  10. Continue driving straight; go past Jaco, towards Quepos
  11. Continue driving through Parrita
  12. Before Quepos you should see a sign pointing left (Playa Dominical 43 kilometers)
  13. Continue driving on the main road
  14. Drive straight from the police checkpoint, drive past Dominical on the right
  15. Continue driving on the main road for 34 kilometers
  16. You will see the entrance to Ojochal on your left. The road is not paved.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Roller Skating?!?!

Roller Skating?!?!  You bet!  I went roller skating this afternoon!  I haven't been since I was a teenager, but guess what?  Nothing much has changed - same music, same games, same smell :-S.  Nostalgia is strange sometimes.

I went with a couple I met through my French school, so we had a very nice conversational mixture of Spanish, French, and English.  It was a workout for my brain as well as my legs!  Speaking of legs...  It did take me a while to find my "skating legs" - I was a windmill for at least the first half.  But then I found my balance, and even started to get the hang of the cross-over turn.  Spinning, squatting, and skating backwards will have to wait.  I got a little cocky, and so I fell twice.  I'm not going to count all the times I grabbed at other skaters - a very common occurrence for nearly everyone - all in all, not too bad.

Some details: the rink is in San Pedro, just across the circunvalacion from the Mall San Pedro.  Skate times are at 1-3:30, 4-6:30, and 7-10.  Entry and skate rental is c2000 (about $4) at the 4:00 time slot.  You can choose between in-line or traditional skates.  Skate are in USA sizes.  Shoe (etc) check runs c150, but some people keep a small backpack with them for that instead.  Sodas are c500.  I did not hear any songs from KC and the Sunshine Band, but there were definitely others from that "original" era of skating.