Tag Archives: friends

Sabbatical: Strange places, familiar faces

It turns out that it is a small world after all.

I don’t believe in coincidence and so when I run into someone multiple times, I take note and make certain to exchange information, because I believe there is some significance in the meeting. I expect that I will encounter people that I know in my home town, the last thing that I would have expected was for this to be a common occurrence while vacationing. Here are a collection of stories that illustrate just how comforting it is to reconnect with familiar faces, in unfamiliar places.

The first night I arrived in San Jose, Costa Rica, I met Patrick, a jokester from Germany who liked to tease me incessantly about the Walmart loving, burger eating, gun-loving, truck driving Americans. We were both beginning our journeys. On our last night in San Jose before striking out for other areas of the country, Costa Rica won entrance into the World Cup. To say that they were excited, would be the understatement of the century. The entire Country celebrated, and we just so happened to be positioned a few short blocks from the mayhem. It started with an eruption of cheers and before we knew it, the street in front of the hostel had been transformed into an impromptu parade, complete with drummers, vendors selling paraphernalia and vuvuzelas. Together, Patrick and I decided to join in the revelry. Traffic had come to a standstill, and no one seemed to care. The street was filled with people high fiving, hugging and jogging around the traffic circle chanting “Ole ole ole ole…Tico, Tico!” This continued for hours. I have never seen anything like it.

Patrick and I at the traffic circle in San Jose after the World Cup berth

That same night when I returned, a few new people had come to the hostel. Ana, also from Germany, had arrived and was chatting with a few other travelers on the couch in the common room. Each of her sentences was punctuated with an animated gesture and a bubbly smile, I liked her immediately. We ended up chatting until 2:00AM about where we intended to go and what we would like to do while in the country. I gave Ana my email address and told her to send me a message so I could let her know what activities or experiences I encountered that I liked, since she had arrived without a plan. When I left the next morning to travel to Arenal, I said a brief goodbye to Annette, a hostel employee from Boston whose parents were originally from Portugal.

Upon arriving in Arenal, I met a couple from Texas who twice provided a much appreciated ride in their rental. We bid each  other a fond farewell after a couple of days and I proceeded to the next leg of my trip, Cartago, where I would spend the weekend with my good friend, Irene. She introduced me to her bestie; a Biologist with a penchant for humor, spectacular spectacles and a rapier wit, Maca. Together we explored the Irazu Volcano and Tapanti National Park

Exploradores: Myself, Irene and Maca at Tapanti

From Cartago, I headed to Manuel Antonio and a new hostel, Vista Serena, I met my roommate a German by the name of Anja. I smiled and told my new acquaintance the story of the first German Ana. I wondered what she was up to, since I had never received an email. Here, I also met a pair of friends, one of whom was Dave, an Englander who had survived cancer and was on a two year round the world trip, blogging to inspire other survivors to live their dreams. The next day, Anja and I visited the National Park and enjoyed a lunch by an ocean side cafe. As I sat gazing contentedly out at the sea, devouring my coconut ice cream, I saw them, the couple from Arenal! I called out and we laughed at the likelihood of having run into one another. They decided to have lunch at the same cafe.

The 2nd Anja and I in Manuel Antonio

Anja and I returned to the hostel so she could catch her shuttle to Monteverde and I sat down to enjoy the afternoon showers with a spectacular panoramic view from the hostel balcony. September in Costa Rica is part of what is marketed as “The Green Season,” a gimmicky name for rainy. True to form, each afternoon around 3:00PM, the showers would begin and last well into the evening. It was during the rainstorm that a few new guests arrived. There was an Indian man by the name of Dhaval (who went by Dave for us Westerners) who was living in New York and decided to take a last minute trip to Costa Rica…on whim. As “Dave” and I discussed our experiences and plans, a second newbie arrived. I turned to say hello and immediately both of us let out peals of laughter, it was Ana, from Hostel Urbano! After she and I greeted one another she turned to Dave and laughed again, “You!!!” she exclaimed. Apparently, they had crossed paths earlier in their journey as well. “Your email bounced back, I must have typed it incorrectly” Ana explained, I smiled and replied “I guess we were meant to reconnect,” and we once again shared an evening of laughter as the rain continued to pour.

Both Ana and Irene had told me of a river, Rio Celeste, that had the most unearthly blue water and was just outside of La Fortuna. My first time visiting, La Fortuna, it rained heavily and I assumed that the water would be muddy and thus, not worth visiting, so I skipped it. I had also bypassed the hot springs and was chastised by every person I spoke for not having soaked in the naturally heated waters. With my time in Costa Rica winding down, I was determined to see that river and since I would be in La Fortuna anyway, I supposed I would soak in the springs. I left from Monteverde determined to make it to Rio Celeste, and on the ride over, the rains started. I arrived in La Fortuna and checked into a new hostel, Arenal Hostel Resort, which really, was quite like a little oasis and a steal at $12 per night. Upon check in, I inquired about visiting Rio Celeste, I was told (what I already knew) that it was not recommended given the rains. As I exited the front office I heard someone call out “Hey! Were you at Hostel Urbano?” and there was Annette walking toward me, we decided to go on the Volcano Hike the next morning.

Annette and I at my farewell lunch
For my final evening in Costa Rica, I decided to go full circle and end where I began, at Hostel Urbano. Upon checkin, I turned to see the travel companion of Dave the Survivor and she told me he had set out for Nicaragua, she would be returning to England in the morning. I set out for the ballet and returned that evening, tired and ready for a good night’s sleep. On my final day in Costa Rica, Irene and I went to breakfast and she told me that Maca would have joined us, but he had company in town. We enjoyed our food and I recounted the many tales of reconnecting with people throughout my trip. She told me that Maca would be in San Jose later that day if we were able to meet up. After breakfast, walked over to the University and through the library before returning to the hostel. When I did, I was told someone had called for me, darn! I had missed connecting with Maca. I decided to walk into San Jose to photograph the graffiti murals, and 20 minutes into my walk, as I neared the city center, I heard someone call out my name. I turned to see Maca and his friend walking toward me smiling broadly, we spent the afternoon together at the museums. 
Maca and I in San Jose

When I returned to the hostel for my final evening, Annette had returned from La Fortuna and the hostel was abuzz with new activity. I could only shake my head and laugh when Patrick, the German from my first night in Costa Rica, appeared and began to tease me about Americans and our Football. It would only seem right to end my trip where it began, and to find that it is always a comfort to encounter a familiar face in a strange  place and that a place, once unfamiliar, can become like a lighthouse –welcoming you back like an old friend.

Patrick and I leaving to our next destinations at San Jose Airport

Get them to the Greek

The February 2012 Veggie Dinner took us to another exotic locale…Greece! Jennifer and I (Eshe) co-hosted, it was one of the most preparation intensive meals to date. Good thing we had many Sous Chefs on hand.


  • Falafel chips and hummus
  • Greek Salad
  • Spanakopita
  • Baba Ganouj & Pita
  • Vegan Moussaka
Total cook and prep time: 2 hoursFor our appetizer, we cheated. The Falafel chips were purchased from Trader Joes as was the hummus. We doctored up the hummus a bit by adding additional garlic, lemon juice and salt (to taste) a hint of olive oil and a dash of paprika completed the dish.

Greek Salad

  • 1 English cucumber
  • 3 large Roma tomatoes
  • 1/2 purple onion
  • Feta Cheese
  • Seedless kalamata olives
  • Your choice of lettuce (we used arugula, which isn’t very “Greek”)
Wash and tear your lettuce. Thinly slice the cucumber and purple onion. Cube and de-seed the tomatoes. Chop olives. In a large bowl, combine ingredients and toss. Add cheese last as garnish.  Top with your dressing of choice, we suggest a balsamic vinaigrette.


  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
  • 4oz feta cheese
  • crumbled butter
  • melted 10oz chopped spinach thawed, drained, squeezed dry
  • 2 large onions
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 4 eggs lightly beaten
  • 16 oz phyllo dough

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat vegetable oil in a large saucepan. Slowly cook and stir onions until softened. Mix in spinach, dill and flour. Cook 10 minutes or until most of the moisture has been absorbed. Remove from heat. Mix in feta cheese, eggs, salt and pepper. Separate one sheet of phyllo from stack and evenly brush with melted butter. Place another sheet over it and brush on butter. Cut the dough into long strips about 3 inches wide. Make sure to keep the remaining phyllo covered with plastic to keep from drying out. place a heaping tablespoon of filling on the edge of the strip. Fold the bottom right corner over the filling. Continue turning over to create a triangle. Repeat with remaining phyllo dough and filling. Place the filled dough triangles on a large baking sheet and brush with remaining butter. Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour until golden brown.

Baba Ghanouj

  • 3 medium eggplants
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 cup tahini
  • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • 1/2 cup chopped Italian parsley
  • 1 head garlic
  • 1 1/2 cup water
  • 8 oz cream cheese
  • 8 oz feta cheese
  • salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Prick eggplants wtih fork and bake (turning several times) 40 min or until soft. Remove from oven and cool. Remove skin and chop. Lightly salt and drain in colander for 1 hour to remove excess liquid. Place garlic on foil and drizzle with olive oil. Place on a piece of foil on a cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes. Let cool and sqeeze garlic out. Place all ingredients into a blender except 4 oz of feta and the parsley. Blend for 3-4 minutes or until smooth and warm. Add remaining feta and parsley and blend for 10 seconds.

A word to the wise: Make sure that your blender has a powerful motor. Our Baba Ganouj was nearly just Baba on account of the lack luster performance of my run of the mill blender. It was touch and go, but in the end, success! The recommendation I would make – blend in smaller increments, adding a bit at a time instead of everything all at once.

Our recipe for Vegan moussaka came from the vegetariantimes.com, please visit their site for preparation details. The moussaka was the one dish that was less than stellar. Typically, moussaka is like a Greek lasagna, mine…not so much. It was far too wet, and did not hold together as it should have. Taste wise, it was decent, but nothing to write home about. What went wrong? I think the eggplant should have sweat out a little more water before adding, perhaps even grilled ahead of time, the same with the tomatoes. The seeds should have been removed and perhaps a little dehydration in the oven prior to cooking. Here is the side by side of what it should have looked like, and what it did:

What it was supposed to look like
what it did.

After dinner, I made the remainder of the moussaka into a delicious soup. A (cooking) failure is only a failure if it cannot be turned into something delicious to eat. Until the next blog, remember: happy eating is healthy eating!

December Potluck

Given how hectic the month of December is, we opted to spread the hosting wealth and do a potluck dinner.


  • Asparagus w/cream sauce
  • Garlic mashed potatoes
  • Spaghetti squash
  • Sweet potato casserole 
  • Salad
  • Pumpkin pie
Asparagus w/cream sauce
  • 1 bunch green asparagus
  • 1/2 cup almonds
  • Nathan’s deli mustard
  • 1 tbsp miso
  • 2 tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 carton of silky tofu
  • 1/2 cup almond milk
  • salt
  • pepper
  • curry powder
  • cumin
  • garlic powder
  • olive oil
Blanch the asparagus (steam quickly) for about 2 minutes. Place the asparagus on a cookie sheet and drizzle in olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for ~5 minutes on 350. You will need a food processor or a blender. Combine the ingredients (season to taste) for cream sauce in the food processor and blend until completely liquified. In a sauce pan, heat the mixture until warm and and serve with the asparagus.
Garlic mashed potatoes
  • 5-6 potatoes (of your choice) 
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 5 cloves of garlic (or more if you like garlic!)

Roast garlic in the oven for 15 minutes or until soft. Wash and dice potatoes into small cubes. Boil potatoes in a large pot until potatoes are soft. Drain potatoes (keeping some of the water to use for mashing). In a large mixing bowl, combine garlic, salt pepper, and potatoes. Mash until fluffy. Add Earth Balance buttery spread to taste.

Spaghetti Squash
  • 1 large spaghetti squash
  • 1 red onion
  • Kalamatta olives
  • chives
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 2 large heirloom tomatoes
  • 1 red pepper
  • 1 cob of sweet corn
  • 1-2 cups of sliced crimini mushrooms
  • marinara sauce (I like Whole Food’s 365 organic tomato basil)
  • Fresh basil
  • Italian seasoning
Split the spaghetti squash in half and poke several holes in the meat using a fork. Pour about 1 inch of water into a large, deep pan and place the spaghetti squash meat side down in the water. Bake on 350 for 45 minutes. Chop garlic, onion and red pepper, saute in olive oil and salt to taste. Remove kernels from the cob and saute with mushrooms. Scoop seeds from the spaghetti squash and discard. Scoop all meat from the spaghetti squash into a large pan and combine with sauteed vegetables. Add marinara and chopped heirloom tomatoes. Heat on low, add Italian seasoning, kalamatta olives and salt to taste. Garnish with chives and basil.
  • Romaine lettuce
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • Sliced mushrooms
  • Lemon juice
  • balsamic vinegar
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • pepper
  • seasoning
  • brown sugar
Wash lettuce and slice off the bottom. In a sauce pan, saute mushrooms and red bell peppers. Combine lemon 1 tbsp lemon juice, 1/2 cup olive oil, 1 tsp brown sugar, 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar in a container (with lid) shake well. Place lettuce on plate and add mushroom and bell peppers, drizzle with salad dressing and serve!
Sweet Potato Casserole
We are missing this recipe…Kat and Avory have to provide 🙂
Vegan Pumpkin Pie
We are missing this recipe…Russel will have to provide!
Yet another delicious meal to add to the veggie pantheon of goodness. Let us know if you attempt any of these and until the next time…happy eating!

Cinco de Mayo

This month in honor of Cinco de Mayo, we did the veggie dinner Mexican style! Our host for this month’s dinner, yours truly, Eshé. I am a west coast girl so Mexican food is one of my favorites! The great thing about this dinner is that (with the exception of dessert), it’s vegan! What was on the menu? Glad you asked.

The Menu

  • Appetizer – Chips and Guacamole
  • Main Course – Veggie Tacos
  • Drink – Virgin Margaritas
  • Dessert – Cake and Ice Cream (okay so we deviated from the theme…)

Virgin Margaritas

  • Limeade
  • Orange Juice
  • 4 large grape fruits

Juice the grapefruits and combine with limeade and OJ to taste (Jennifer our fabulous bartender did an amazing job!)


Chips — Purchase your favorite tortilla chips from your local grocery store, I am partial to Red Hot Blues which are the best. chips. EVER!


  • 5 ripe avocados
  • 1/3 purple onion, finely chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 ear of fresh sweet corn, remove from the cob
  • 2 handfuls of cilantro, finely chopped
  • 2 limes, juiced
  • 1/2 cup black olives, chopped
  • Garlic powder
  • Seasoned Salt
  • Pepper

Skin the avocados and remove the seeds. Combine the avocados and lime juice in a large bowl and mash (a potato masher will do the job) until you have reached the desired texture (I prefer a little chunky). Add onions, bell pepper, olives, corn, and cilantro and mix. Add salt, garlic powder, and pepper to taste.

Main Course

Spices you will need:

  • Sea salt
  • Black Pepper
  • Cumin
  • Ground cayenne pepper
  • Garlic powder
  • Honey
  • Bragg (a must have for every veggie kitchen!)
  • Olive oil

Calabacitas (sort of — used as a taco filler)

  • 2 Jalapenos, finely chopped
  • 3 habanero peppers, finely chopped
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 white onion, finely chopped
  • 8 cloves of garlic, finely minced
  • 1 pkg firm tofu, cubed and drained
  • 2 zucchini, chopped
  • 2 yellow squash, chopped

Add olive oil (~2 tbsp) in a pan and add tofu. Stir in Bragg, cayenne pepper and cumin to taste, allow to simmer on medium heat for ~10 minutes. Add garlic, onions, peppers, and bell pepper, stir and allow to cook for ~5 minutes. Add zucchini and squash drizzle on about 1/2 tbsp of honey, add additional seasoning to taste, continually stir and allow to cook for ~10 minutes or until squash and zucchini are tender, cover and remove from heat.

Black Beans (used as a taco filling)
A crockpot will be your best friend to make your black beans. Combine 1 lb of black beans (rinsed and sorted) with about 3 times as much water (I eyeball these things, apologies), and add salt, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, and black pepper to taste. Set your crockpot to cook on high for 6 hours.

Cilantro Lime Rice (also for taco filling)

  • 1 bag of long-grain brown rice
  • 2 handfuls of cilantro
  • 2 limes, juiced

A rice cooker is also a must-have! Combine the bag of rice with the appropriate amount of water (typically 1 part water to 2 parts rice). This will cook for approximately 40 minutes. When the rice is ready, stir in sea salt, pepper, and lime juice to taste!

Tortilla shells

  • 2 pkgs blue corn tortillas (purchased from Trader Joe’s)

In a pan on medium heat, add olive oil and fry the taco shell on each side, folding in half once it is soft enough to do so (otherwise it will break). When the taco shell is slightly crispy, remove from heat and shake excess oil. Place in a paper towel-lined pan to allow remaining oil to absorb. Repeat for as many taco shells as you need (we did 2 per person…well, Sheldon only got 1 taco…sorry Sheldon!)


  • 5 tomatoes chopped
  • 1/2 lb sliced spinach
  • Pico de gallo (you can make it fresh…we bought it from Whole Foods)

Build your tacos:

In your taco shell, combine beans, rice, calabacitas, tomatoes, spinach, guacamole, and pico de gallo IN THAT ORDER (small joke), and enjoy! Be prepared to get messy…

For dessert, we were treated to a very tasty whole wheat vanilla cake from Whole Foods and Banana split ice cream, topped with fresh bananas!

This dinner was truly an exercise in collective cooking. There was so much chopping that needed doing, we used ALL of my cutting boards! It felt like Iron Chef in that kitchen 🙂 Team work made the dream work, and what a tasty dream it was. Join us next month as we travel to the home of our next host…Sheldon!