Thursday, September 27, 2007

What Do You Do With 25lbs Of Tomatos?

You make tomato sauce. Possibly more tomato sauce then a single girl can eat. Possibly more tomato sauce than would fill my bath tub to brimming (my hair may turn a disturbing shade of pink but I will totally covered if ever sprayed by a skunk (or maybe not) (random fact that I can now confirm: Costa Rica has skunks)). In the interest of full disclosure I should admit that this bounty is not the unforeseen result of my tomato growing project – which went well but 2 small plants do not 25lbs of tomatoes make. No, I explicitly signed up to be buried in tomatoes. My CSA offers a tomato share at the peek of tomato season and back in June when, after a winter full of squash and broccoli, I was feeling ready to take on the vegetable world I thought, “25lbs! Great, I’ll make sauce and freeze it for winter! It will be fun!” And it was fun, it was just also overwhelming and since I couldn’t begin until after work lasted until midnight.

Really it’s my mother who should be blamed for this ridiculousness.

I know my mother loves me and all but this is not why she makes and cans roughly 8 billion quarts of tomato sauce each summer. In truth Mom just cannot handle the idea of wasting food. When I was two we moved into the house where my parents still live and mom started her huge garden which, as it has every year since, led to megatons of vegetables. In an effort to do right by the fruits mom turned to a cookbook tomato sauce recipe and heavily modified it to use as many vegetables as possible. This is how the version listed below came to include summer squash. Knowing my mother I’m surprised that she didn’t some how include surplus apples or cucumbers. This sauce is also a great way to lie to children – once you’ve sneaked in every vegetable imaginable and cooked it down into a fragrant red bubble brew put it in the blender and your children will never know how many vitamins you’re forcing on them under the guise of spaghetti. But be forewarned, feed your children homemade and they’ll turn up their noise at every other red sauce save ketchup – one summer of capricious cooking could have you, like my mom, chained to the stove ever August and September for eternity.

My Mom’s Tri County Fair Award Winning Tomato Sauce

1/2 onion chopped
1/4 tsp dried basil (1tbsp fresh)
1 clove garlic
2 tbsp parsley
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 cups chopped, peeled tomatoes
1-3 summer squashes diced
1 small carrot grated
1 6 oz can of tomato paste
2 tbsp chopped pepper
1 tsp salt
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp oregano
1/8 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp thyme

Add the oil and saute the onion, garlic carrot, and pepper. Then add the tomato paste and the herbs and spices and chopped tomatoes. Slow cook at a simmer
for hours. Eat, freeze or can.

The sauce is good if you grew the tomatoes yourself, even better if the herbs are fresh and, obviously, the best if your mom makes it for you.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Random Recommends 7

The Settlers of Catan

Recently I’ve managed to increase my nerd-itude 10 fold by scheduling a weekly lunch date to play this game but then lose at lease 15 nerd points for being about 5 years behind on trends in the gaming world. The game is simple to learn and yet always different and challenging so I feel good recommending it even though I have had my behind handed to me over and over again by everyone I’ve played against. The game also offers ample opportunity to regress to age 13 (which is normally a bad thing but is surprisingly awesome in this situation) due to the fact that people constantly have to say things like, “Oh a 6, that gives me wood!” and “does anyone have wood?” The inclusion of a woman with big boobs on the game box is evidence of much wishful thinking on the part of the game designers but I assure you that the game can be played with your breasts full covered – in fact, I believe it might be considered cheating to use your breasts as a way to distract your competitors. Leave it to me to turn a game review in a paragraph about boobs.

This American Life: "The Break Up"

This episode of the best radio program ever is uproariously funny while still being touching, in addition it does for Phil Collins what Rushmore did for Bill Murray. Listen now.

Neutrogena Sunscreen Stick

The only reason my entire face has not broken out into one huge melanoma due the massive amounts of sun it saw in Costa Rica is this little gem. It may feel a bit like smearing chapstick all over your face but that’s a small price to pay for you know, not getting cancer. The stick also makes it easy to apply sunscreen to your hair part which is a life saver if, like me, your go-to lazy vacation hair style is reminiscent of the Swiss Miss girl.

Flatiron Lounge

I was introduced to this place by a couple of gay boys who are, unsurprisingly, 8000 times cooler than I. I suspect the Bar will soon be contacting me requesting that I remove this review as appearing on a web page along with a review of Settlers of Catan is likely to bring their cool WAY down. Not only did my drinking buddies know exactly which of the tempting cocktails would most quickly turn me from reserved professional to giggly sweet young thing but they even introduced me to “cocktail stylist” Julie Reiner who was incredibly nice for not pointing out how my H&M dress was bringing down drink values all over the bar. I will never be as cool as my metro drinking companions but hanging at Flatiron Lounge allowed me to *pretend* that I too am dressing in designer duds, flirting with international businessmen and generally living the life of a gay man in NYC – this may not be my life long dream (no, that still involves an evening at El Bulli with Jack White) but it makes for a fun night or two. Be forewarned, the drink prices match the lifestyle (average cocktail price if you can’t convenience the It Boys to buy your drinks ~$13).

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Costa Rica: The Mature Version

Now that I have that last bit of silliness out of my system I can finally write the Costa Rica post that you were expecting. You know, the cliché one about how pretty the sunsets are and the painful cuteness of the monkeys and exactly how jealous you should be of my tan (I think I may have finally manage to darken myself enough to match the “nude” shade of nylons, implying that in the past I have always been more naked then everyone else).

Before I get started on the pretty and cute Costa Rica I need to cover a less appealing but much more common aspect of the country. I’m going to use this paragraph to get a little USA #1 on you, I promise to insult us later on to balance the scales and prove that I am not that universally hated thing: the stereotypical American tourist. What is up with the plumbing in other countries? When in Europe I always assume that the plumbing is so ancient that it predates toilet paper or that people in olden times didn’t have sufficient food to warrant large pipes but I have no idea what Latin American’s excuse is. Like Sweden, the UK and (one assumes) Hades Costa Rica (and, if I remember correctly, Mexico) also expects you to toss your toilet paper in a garbage can next to the john. Despite the heavy signage asking/begging me to not put anything in the toilet that didn’t come out of my body I was unable to follow these instructions at least 70% of the time. I fear that there must be some maximum number of American tourists that any given country can support without risking the loss of indoor plumbing.

Sky and I spent our second week in Costa Rica on the Osa Pennisula enjoying a much more adult vacation than the first week provided – there was much appreciation of wildlife and naps and eating of healthy food. There were no tequila shots or reggae bars. I did a lot of reading. If Malpais was age 16 all over again the Osa foreshadowed my early forties. This makes it sound boring but it wasn’t that at all – I personally plan to be a very cool 43 year old.

To get to the Osa we booked a quick flight from San Jose which was ridiculously cheap – cheap enough to make one worry about if the airline is skimping on nice to haves like peanuts, pillows and engines. Being asked for my weight preflight didn’t help inspire confidence but I figured they couldn’t be too serious about the danger considering they were trusting people to tell the truth – if the threat of a large ass forcing the plane from of the sky were real wouldn’t there be an actual scale involved?

Sky and I took a bit of a gamble traveling to Central America during the rainy season but thus far our luck had held out and Thor saw fit to only send torrents of rain when it best suited his sick sense of humor – thankfully while in Malpais this was only at night and left us with plenty of dry daytime to play outside. Not content to avert our eyes from the gift horse we decided to go play in the rain forest (take that common sense!). I can now report that neither “rain forest” nor “rainy season” is a misnomer. We got a little rain (the ocean has a little water in it, the war in Iraq has been a little disappointing, ice cream is a little yummy….) and these storms highlighted one of the greatest failings of Costa Rica: the appalling lack of magic umbrella sellers (you know, the guys who come out of the woodwork on ever New York City street corner at the mere hint of moisture). I feel that as a gesture of goodwill we should sponsor some sort of umbrella seller work abroad program (perhaps this would make up for bringing down their entire national septic system). Until that happens silly Americans like us will continue to suffer for our poor travel season choices. That said, the suffering was fairly minor. The rain was torrential (at the risk of offending former boyfriends I have to honestly say that I have never been wetter (Hi mom! Good thing you weren’t ever shooting for a nice ladylike daughter!)) but thankfully the rain was sporadic and didn’t stop us from hiking or snorkeling or communing with nature.

Speaking of nature, can we talk about the bugs? The majority of insect pictures in my flickr set were taken in our house in Malpais. INSIDE OF THE HOUSE. I’ll pause while you think of an appropriate prize for my bravery (*hint*NintendoWii*hint*). I think that these pictures serve as irrefutable evidence that if there is an insect Olympics the USA is getting its thorax kicked. My previous ramblings about large bugs aside Costa Rica offered one specimen that I fear foreshadows the downfall of human civilization. It turns out that the 1950s Sci Fi movies were more than prophetic – humans, meet your new not so benevolent dictator – Tropidacris dux (that’s Latin for HOLY SHIT EVERYBODY RUN). If Trop is the king then his queen is this yet to be identified beetle, as you can see from exhibit B, she has already taken over at least one beverage.

Despite the subpar plumbing, sheets of rain and the IOUSes (oh yes, they do exist) Costa Rica was a blast. In the bleak future that is to come (one starting with this job thing that people seem to expect me to do ALL OF THE TIME and ending with being enslaved by a race of giant grasshoppers) I hope that I someday get to escape to Malpais or the Osa again. Oh yeah – the sunsets were pretty and the monkeys very cute, if you see me in the next couple of weeks you better check out my tan before it fades.

Monday, September 17, 2007

What I Did on my Summer Vacation

I am not good at being bad at things. I whine and cry and quickly deem myself a failure at life in general simply because I cannot sew a straight seam or ace a tennis opponent or convince some nice boy to fall in love with me. Awful though these failures may feel I am sometimes able to turn one or two into enjoyable blog fodder, which on a good day serve as a comforting salve for my many emotional bruises. This tragedy to tall tale factory I've built is occasionally so successful as to inspire friends to wish disaster upon me "for the good of the blog." And so, I am sad to report that learning to surf in Costa Rica was not a tragedy (many scrapes and physical bruises notwithstanding). I stood on day one (nay HOUR 1) and got up twice on day two. Don’t get be wrong – I sucked (and days 3 and 4 brought nothing but pain as each wave picked me up and slammed me into the sand as if to say, “silly, pale, unathletic girl go back to your crafts and bloging and leave the xgames to the professionals.” ) but I didn’t end up beaten against the jagged rocks until I passed out and drown. It turns out that with surfing, as with so many other things, the key to success is setting a low bar. I did, however, make very good friends with one very special (and sharp) rock who will be featured in an upcoming winner parade post – he loved me so much that he chased me all over the ocean begging me to never leave him again, it was sweet for a while but eventually I felt smothered and had to end things and surfing was the unfortunate casualty of this doomed relationship – it’s so sad when the kids have to suffer.

But this is all drivel. You don’t come here for stories about surfing do you? So, while we’re on the topic of things that I am not good at let’s talk about boys. During week one in Costa Rica due to the pleasantly impermanent state of all decisions made while on vacation I was able to fully regress back to the teenagerhood I never had (it was not pretty, but was, of course, totally rad). There were many tequila shots and a bilingual game of “I Never” (“I never thought I’d be getting drunk with college boys at 29.”) and there was a hot Colombian boy named David (and here I must pause to mention that Colombia also brings us the awesome yumminess of arapeas, that plus hot boys makes it my new favorite country). The boy was very concerned with getting out the word that not all Colombians are drug mules. So here it is, The Word: Not all Colombians are coke pushers or warlords. Not even all of the 25 year old boys. Especially not the hot ones. Of course, cocaine isn’t my drug of choice anyway. I choose kissing to be hopelessly addicted to and the hot 25 year old Colombian boys seem to be pushing that commodity all over Latin America. The mere suggestion of kissing transforms me into a pathetic junkie willing to sink to the basest acts in pursuit of some sweet lip locking action. My friends, these are my sins:

  • I did willingly pretend to enjoy cheap watery Costa Rica beer.
  • Of my own volition I let slide more than one comment about how women need to be taken care of.
  • Without coercion I went to reggae bars TWO NIGHTS IN A ROW.

I am very sorry, but in my defense, have I mentioned the hotness? What about the K-I-S-S-I-N-G ? In the end, though I am embarrassed, it was all so very very worth it.

By the end of our first evening together (or early the next morning) David was charmed enough by my bad Spanish (and perhaps a little bit by the tequila) to be all “Hi, I’m a former Olympic level swimming with an insanely hot body and a very cute smile, shall we make out?” Of course I responded, “Yes! Please! Preferably for the next 3 days straight!” Sadly, this is where we differed. For despite a blissful morning of relatively innocent drunken kissing when I saw Mr. David the next night I was forced to endure FOUR games of Rummikub with his boring stoner friends rather than get on with the awesome making out. Desperate, I even stooped so low as to suggest “going on a walk” which, EVERYONE knows is international code for “Let’s go make out!” Having this obvious bait summarily rejected (“Nah, let’s hang out and play some more Rummyikub, it’s like 5 million times better than kissing.”) I tried not to sulk – a difficult task when stoner boys are kicking your ass at a children’s game. Thankfully, even half drunk boys with poor prioritization skills eventually get bored making runs and sets of plastic tiles so off to the bar we went (“What? Oh Yeah, Reggae is great. CAN’T GET ENOUGH!!!”). Perhaps I should be kinder to Reggae, since once ensconced in its loud garbled embrace David ditched his friend and devoted all of his attention to the hot blonde girl (hi, me, overHERE) but for some reason rather than kissing we were discussing Colombian politics. At length. Ok, I like politics, and I like learning new things and David had tons of interesting things to say about the war and how much it sucks that he pretty much can’t travel to any other country since everyone from Colombia is obviously a drug lord but umm… don’t we have kissing to do?!?! It took at least another 30mins of Reggae soundtracked chit chat for the boy to work up to revealing the reason why we were still free of the lip lock: A crisis of conscious in the form of a girlfriend. Ok, I know I should care about his poor girlfriend and be suitably impressed with his (albeit slightly late) guilt but… REALLY? I’m only around for 3 days, we can’t just IGNORE the girlfriend? Come on, this is vacation, have a heart! Actually, as it turns out, we could ignore her; my offer to “not kiss you or anything” was quickly met with a big smooch – boys are weird, the world over.

Sadly, the weirdness didn’t go away on day 3. We spent the entire day together (with stoner friends in tow) on a mini tour of Toruga Island where there was hand holding and flirting and a lot of secret hidden touching (which sounds much more exciting then it actually was) but for reasons I have no ability to discern there was NO KISSING. That evening I endured yet another Reggae bar at the demands of my addiction but it was all to no avail. I don’t know what was wrong with the boy – this was no strings kissing I was offering, one night only, free, complication free – YOU ARE MISSING OUT ON THE DEAL OF A LIFETIME! Alas. I figured the story was over but when 3am rolled around and I drove the boy and his posse home God revealed his latest great joke at Brianna’s expense. As I got half way to their home the term “rainy season” was fully defined for me as a deluge poured from the sky onto the few miles of dirt road separating me from my mountain home. I waited and waited for the rain to end and in the meantime David passed out in his bed, eventually his cousin said that he didn’t think I should drive home in the downpour. The hilarity began anew when I asked where I should sleep, “With David.” Oh, right, with the guy who hasn’t kissed me all day because he’s having girlfriend guilt, I bet he’d LOVE it if I crawled into his bed. “Well, you can sleep with me I guess but you really should sleep with David.” And so I was forced to sleep (sleep only, who ever said chivalry was dead (or a good thing…))? with the hot swimmer – nice work if you can trick a boy into it.

Despite the boy weirdness week one in Costa Rica was not a tragedy. In my opinion there is no better way to spend a vacation than kissing a cute boy even if the boy in question refuses to get with the “all kissing all the time” program, even the promise of no strings kissing is enough for me to declare success (at one point on vacation I mused that fancy resorts should offer guests the chance to hook up with cute locals… then I realized we have that already, and it’s illegal.). And really, who can complain about a vacation in this house (which my travel companion’s friend at hooked us up with for a song)? My regression to teenagerhood was all the things that my actual past was not (fun, not at all angsty, completely devoid of homework) and I can’t imagine that 10 years from now I’ll be on a therapist’s couch obsessing over any of any of it. However, it is comical to note that even while on vacation (even when in the throws of an ugly addiction) I am laughably predictable. I pick the boy who wants to talk politics and help with dinner. The boy who seems slightly lost among his stoner friends. The boy who can spend a whole night in bed with my hot ass and not once touch me (the boy who might be gay?). And, despite my bravado here regarding no strings vacation hook ups a little piece of my teenage heart (perhaps the last piece left in this wizened old 29 year old) crumpled when I said goodbye to David and he grinned and said, “It was a pleasure to sleep with you… in the other way.”