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I like Costa Rican “single guys”…  or do I??

22 Jul

I’ve never had the opportunity to travel to Costa Rica before …  and so far this year, I’ve traveled there TWICE!!!  Yep… Twice.  I remember when I was about to celebrate one of those milestone birthdays and I wanted to travel somewhere I had never ever gone before.  My mind immediately went to Greece, Turkey or even go back to Italy. And when I consulted with my guru, he quietly said: “Why don’t you go to Costa Rica?”

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What kind of enchantment did Costa Rica have?  I would not learn that until 3 years later in which, as a yoga group, we decided to take a short trip to San José and its surroundings.  It was a short trip indeed, but extremely intense.  We had the chance to visit San José and see once again my friend Flori, who also practices yoga, but now lives in her native land.  We also got to visit some of the volcanoes, go ziplining amongst the greeneries in Guanacaste and go down some cool rapids on the Balsa River.

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It also gave us the chance to taste the local cuisine… particularly something Costa Ricans call Casados, or as translated in English, “Married”.  It’s a kinda weird name in both English and Spanish… don’t think it’s just weird to read it in English. Casados??, I asked when I read a sign in a street-side eatery.  It’s one of the most typical Costa Rican dishes around – it’s a combination of rice, beans, sweet fried plantain, salad, cooked vegetables, potatoes and some sort of meat.  And I said to myself…  Ahhhh, now I know what I want to order for lunch today.

The name “casado” was given to this combo dish because apparently when you get married is when you get to eat well and varied.  The thing is…  if my “casado” is meat-less, how should we call them then??  So I came up with my own little nickname – the “Soltero” or The Single, a “casado” without the meat.  And we got to eat Solteros all over the place.

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One of the advantages to us of Costa Rica receiving such an influx of US-based tourists is they have a sensibility for  vegetarian tourists.  Everywhere we went, there were vegetarian options and even pure vegetarian restaurants.  One example is Vishnu Restaurant, a vegetarian fast food joint with several locations in San José.    Ever since we stepped foot in San José we had delicious options to eat.  And even me, the non-bean lover, was asking for more of their refried black beans.  They were delish…

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After having such a great time on my first trip… I accepted the invitation of my friend Carlos to return to Costa Rica a few weekends ago. This time, Carlos and I got to visit the beaches on the Pacific side of Costa Rica, something we didn’t get a chance to experience on my first trip in March.  The nice thing… he got to introduce me to some fancy restaurants in San José and I got to show him what a traditional typical Costa Rican dish is – SOLTEROS!!!  And Carlos was veeeeeeeery happy about that, if you get my drift. ;)

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Costa Rica is truly and amazing country, gorgeous landscapes and the food is delicious.  It’s a country who has taken advantage of their natural resources and made the best of it.  God only knows how many more times I’ll return to Costa Rica to fully understand why Guruji recommended me to travel here a few years ago.  Who knows if there is a real life “soltero” waiting for me, right?

Have you ever visited Costa Rica?  What are your favorite dishes?  Please share your experiences with all of us below…

What’s a Fainá??

11 Jul

The other day I posted on Instagram that I was eating a fainá… and many of you liked the picture. But I was wondering if most of you know what a fainá is… I learned about it during my one and only visit to Buenos Aires a couple of years ago.

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When you look at the picture above, you just say it’s a pizza, right??  But this is no ordinary pizza…  A fainá is a flatbread made with chickpea flour, very typical in Argentina. They usually serve it as an appetizer or as an accompaniment to pizza. But, you can also order a fainá as the CRUST of a pizza, topping it with cheese and any of the traditional pizza toppings, making it a gluten-free alternative.

When we were in Argentina, we went to this little pizzeria in our neighborhood and the owner would make pizza using fainá as the crust. I am not kidding you when I tell you we went almost every day to eat dinner there.

Fainá - Buenos Aires

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In Puerto Rico, we have an Argentinean pizzeria Juan Pan Pizza, which serves us pizza in a fainá crust. If you call ahead, they’ll make you individually-sized pizzas with a very thin and crispy fainá crust. Usually fainá is a tad thick… and in a pinch, they’ll just top the fainá they have on hand and top it with your favorite pizza toppings.
You see? There are gluten-free alternatives wherever you go… Hope you visit Juan Pan Pizza soon if you live in Puerto Rico or now get to order a fainá on your next trip to Buenos Aires.

Flip Burger @ Bloomingdales 59th Street NYC

5 Feb

It was the first snow storm of 2014… We wanted to get out of the house, but did not want to manage the snow and cold outside. I suggested: “Let’s just take the subway and it can take us right underneath the belly of one of my favorite department stores in NYC – Bloomingdale’s. Deal??“ They all agreed…

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The day BEFORE the storm… but the same cast of characters.

When we arrived it was already 3PM and we were HUNGRY!!! Who can shop while hungry?? I sure can’t. So we looked at the store directory but there were many options to choose from. Let’s just go checking them out floor by floor as we encounter them and we’ll decide what works best, OK?

Flip was the first option available… right up the stairs from the level where the 4-5-6 subway leaves you. When we discovered it was a burger joint, Tere and my mom were discouraged as, more often than not, burgers means meat burgers only. But we were in NYC after all and I said to myself… “Madelyn, read thru all the burger options before dismissing this restaurant”. And there they were!!!! VARIOUS, not just one, various vegetarian options!!!!

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I wish I had taken a picture of the menu for you… I was sure I was going to find it online, but unfortunately that is not the case. The menu presented a veggie burger and a Portobello Mushroom burger option, my favorite. We sat down and ordered… You could have your pic of bread, burger, and toppings. The vegetarian options come with 2 toppings included beyond the lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle. My burger was a Portobello mushroom burger on a whole wheat/multigrain roll with goat cheese and avocados. YUM!!!

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They also have fries to accompany your burger… we went for the thin crispy fries and the sweet potato fries. They were both superb… But I should warn you, those thin fries don’t seem to ever end. The more you eat, the more they seem to be in your plate. I ate and ate and we still brought the leftovers back home with us.

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Even though Flip @ Bloomingdale’s is not a vegetarian place… in true NYC fashion they have meat-free options for us vegetarian gals. Who wants to go shopping on an empty stomach?? Not me for sure… and the next time I visit Bloomie’s, I know I’ll have a craving for a burger.

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What we ate in Spain… on the Way of St. James

18 Nov

Last July my friend Walter and I embarked on a great journey… to follow the steps of many pilgrims that came before us to reach on foot where the remains of the apostle St. James lie in Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain.

Our interest in completing the Camino de Santiago, as it is called in Spanish, started back during our last trip to the north of Spain in 2007. We saw in almost every city the markers for the pilgrims, the pilgrims themselves carrying their belongings… and we were enthralled. We knew some day we would do it.

But as working professionals, we can’t take off a whole month for just walking across Spain from Roncesvalles to Santiago de Compostela. So we decided to just do what was critically asked of us, walk 114Kms from Sarria to Santiago in 5 days. We walked on average 20kms per day the equivalent of a ½ marathon 5 days back to back. We trained for the trek ahead, walking about 14kms from my house to El Morro and back, carrying backpacks, water bottles, snacks, etc. under the Puerto Rican Summer sun. If we could manage that, we would certainly manage the sun and potential heat in the north of Spain.

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The experience was wonderful… there are certainly spiritual, religious and physical aspects to this pilgrimage. And it’s certainly something that it’s difficult to put into words. You are amongst company and by yourself all at the same time. You start alone yet by the time you arrive in Santiago you have developed so many wonderful friendships. We’re all in this experience together and the love and support you feel is incredibly special. We are so fascinated with the experience, we vouched to do it all over again, but try to start as close to Roncesvalles as we can… and if we can manage it, heck start at the beginning of the trail in Saint Jean Pied de Port in France, the reason why this most traveled route is called the French Way or Camino Francés.

Amigos Collage

My love for Spain is no secret to you who read me frequently… and I could not pass up the opportunity to document all the great things we ate in Galicia and experienced on the Camino.

This was my first time in Galicia… so I had to try some of the local delicacies to see if they’re as good as they say or as good as I remember. I remember my dad eating Caldo Gallego from El Ebro when I was growing up. Caldo Gallego is a hearty soup/stew made with beans, chorizo, vegetables. Growing up was never too find of it, and as an adult vegetarian I have not had it for the obvious reasons described just now. When we arrived in Melide for lunch we were told we needed to go to a Pulpería which are the most typical restaurants/taverns in Melide. Yes… Pulpería as in Octopus. We decided on Pulpería Ezequiel… where we later learned was visited just the day before by renowned Spanish chef Jose Andrés. He was walking the Camino just one day ahead of us!!!!! Of course I wasn’t going to eat octopus, I was pleasantly surprised to know the Caldo Gallego in Ezequiel is vegetarian – potatoes, cabbage, beans in a vegetable broth. It may have been simple… but it was perfect for the rainy day we were having.

Ezequiel Collage

Another Galician favorite are Pimientos de Padrón… Some of my foodie friends swear by these so I had to stop and try them to see if I loved them just the same. These are peppers grown in the town of Padrón in Galicia. They’re served fried and their peculiarity is that they’re mostly sweet, but there are several that are spicy and to eat them is like playing Pepper Russian Roulette… you never know when the spicy one will appear. Well, for me… it was the 4th pepper. It was sooooo spicy that it was enough for me not to want to eat anything else that night.

Pimientos de Padron

To cool off the spicy pepper sensation in my mouth… the Galician thing to do is to have a Clara de Limón, which is a combination of beer and lemon lime soda. It is refreshing and delicious… and when you make it with a non-alcoholic beer, perfect for someone that does not drink much and is planning to walk for 4 more days 4 half marathons. This is not the time to get a hangover.

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The Camino is a trustworthy place to be… we are all walking, with our own obstacles and tribulations towards the same goal, reaching Santiago de Compostela. People are very accommodating to pilgrims. They know we’re walking under the sun sometimes, so they offer water, and sometimes food. Along the way on our 4th day of walking I believe in between Arzúa and Amenal we found this cute fruit stand. No one tended it… there was just a money box where you would deposit the money of whatever you took. Everything was 1 Euro. We decided to eat raspberries and to leave our message of appreciation. I love a place where people are decent, where people are trusting and believe the same of others. We should instill some of those feelings in our own daily lives I think…

Camino Collage

I have told you about Empanadas Gallegas or Galician Empanadas… I have made a vegetarian version using tuno. We ran across a Galician Empanada and we had to try it… Walter ate most of it, but I had to take one for the team and give it a bite to compare with my own version. And for all of you who may have doubted if my tuno version was authentic… My tuno version tastes JUST like the originals made in Galicia. The dough is different, but the filling is just as delicious. The predominant flavor is the caramelized onions which gives it a creamy unctuous flavor. Feel free to make my vegetarian version… you will not be disappointed.

Empanada Gallega Collage

And to finish off our great pilgrimage… we enjoyed some of Spain’s most delicious contributions to the culinary world – CROQUETAS. We ate the most wonderful Spinach and Goat Cheese croquetas. It gave me the inspiration to tweak my spinach croquetas recipe and add some goat cheese to them to make an updated version.

Croquetas de Espinaca y Queso de Cabra

Completing the pilgrimage from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela was an experience we will never forget. Arriving in Santiago under the rain, attending the Pilgrim’s Mass, joining all the other pilgrims who had completed the same journey as us… was an emotional experience. One that I am sure has changed us in more ways than we can express. I encourage you to embark on your own personal journey… the journey to physically and mentally getting to know yourself more. The journey where we find our true essence and where we can live every day those qualities we love most about ourselves.

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Be it on the Camino de Santiago or in your own neighborhood… go out and inside all at the same time and find what you have always wanted that is right there inside your heart.

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What to buy when traveling to Peru…

31 Jul

As you know, to me the best kind of souvenirs are edible souvenirs… something to eat and reminisce about the place I am traveling in.

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In Peru, these are my recommendations on what to bring home to remember your trip by:

Perurisimas Lays

Lay’s Perurísimas Potato Chips  – Peru prides itself for having 1,000+ potato varieties. We had the chance to taste some of them during our dinners. But for munchies, the best potato chips I’ve had in a while are Lay’s Perurísimas. These are similar to a Terra chip, but made with several varieties of Peruvian potatoes. With a very light sea salt touch. De-li-cious!!! I wanted to bring back several bags of these… I will be campaigning for Lay’s to distribute these in the US and Puerto Rico.

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Maras Salt, the Peruvian Pink Salt – Near Cusco there’s a place called Salineras, where Sal de Maras is harvested. Sal de Maras is a pink, very flavorful salt only available in Peru. You can buy it in any supermarket in the area. And I suggest you do so, because if you decide at the airport, you’ll be paying a hefty premium for forgetting it while you were buying your Perurísimas chips.

Sal de Maras Airport

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Maca – Lately, I’ve been hearing about all these add-ons you can add to your morning smoothies to make them more nutritious. Among these add-ons is maca powder. Maca is a Peruvian root, similar to a radish, which has been cultivated for many, many years. It is many times eaten as a cooked vegetable but for us outside of Peru, is more convenient to have it as a powder. Maca is said to help with anemia, boost energy, improve athletic performance and memory and even help with the symptoms of menopause. It’s also used for weak bones, depression, boost the immune system, erectile dysfunction and even to arouse sexual desire.

When I went to buy this at Whole Foods and saw it was a Peruvian thing… I waited to purchase it during our trip. I was lucky enough to find organic maca. I tried it first in a blended juice drink where they added maca to it. The taste is a tad bitter, but that may be a factor of the amount of maca they added to the drink. I only plan to add a tablespoon to my morning smoothie. Will report about the effects of it later on… OK??

Selva Naranja

Selva Brand Orange JuiceI have told you about my love for Orangina… so imagine this Selva Orange Juice is like Orangina, but without the fizz. It’s sweet and tart at the same time. It’s light and delicious. We bought a few bottles along the trip to have in our room to snack or to have for breakfast. I wish I could’ve brought a few bottles home with me. I would have if I had brought with me the super large Ziploc bags to make sure there wasn’t any spillage in my suitcase.

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Oatmeal Cookies from La Gran FrutaI’ve told you about La Gran Fruta… and these cookies make the best gifts for friends at home. Have them taste a little piece of Lima thru these cookies. They might crack into pieces, but no-one will care after they taste their deliciousness.

Ají Amarillo – My friend Mara is from Peru… and she urged me to bring home some ají amarillo, the one used to make salsa huancaína to serve with potatoes or sweet potatoes. I did not get a lot of time at the supermarket right before returning home, so I bought a packet of Ají Mirasol. I hope I bought the right thing. But in the near future I will ask my other Peruvian friend, Lucy, to share with me her papas a la huancaína recipe. We had a chance to have it at her Lima home and it was THE BEST papas a la huancaína we had the whole trip.

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And in a completely unrelated to food topic… I also bought myself a nice little knitted hat made from alpaca wool. It’s the Peruvian wool of choice. I bought it in a little town called Chincheros from the nicest and funniest Peruvian lady ever. She should have her own stand-up comedy show… so I do sometimes buy stuff that is not edible. Just so you know…  ;)

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Have you been to Peru also?? What did you bring as a souvenir?

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