Traveling Foodie: Monteverde & Santa Teresa, Costa Rica

Traveling Foodie: Monteverde & Santa Teresa, Costa Rica

 

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The view from our front porch at El Sol in Monte Verde

Growing up, my family went on two long vacations a year, always to the same two places. In March we head to Boca Grande, Florida where we stay in a beautiful house or condo on a private beach. We spend the 2+ weeks sunning and exploring the cute shops in town by day, and by night indulging at the same delicious restaurants or having fun cooking at home. In the summer, we make the trek to our family island in Canada, which is pretty much glamping. Canada is rustic, but it’s comfortable, familiar and completely relaxing.

On the other hand, Matt grew up adventuring to new locations and foreign countries on vacations with his family. I was so stoked when Matt and I decided to take our first real vacation, just the two of us, to a place neither of us had been, Costa Rica. I’d never done an adventure-style vacation like this so I honestly, and embarrassingly, had no idea what to expect. But Matt took the reigns, made the plans and reservations, and we used my brief time off between quitting my job and starting school to go to Costa Rica.

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El Sol, Monteverde, where heaven and earth meet
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Our private cabin at El Sol, a dream come true

Although here were a couple nights where we stayed in very humble hostels as we traveled from one place to another, we spent the majority of our trip in two places; first in Monteverde in the Cloud Rainforest and then in the surfer beach town of Santa Teresa.

In Monteverde, we took the suggestion of Matt’s uncle and stayed at the remote and breathtaking lodgings of El Sol. El Sol was an incredible experience to say the least. We stayed in a brightly colored private cabin complete with mini kitchen and a front porch looking out onto the rolling hills of the Cloud Rainforest. Our fresh and authentic Costa Rican meals were delivered to our door at the requested time by the friendly and accommodating staff. My favorite meal was the delicious breakfasts consisting of rice, beans, handmade corn tortillas, farm-fresh eggs, cheese and fried plantains. Like omg, so amazing.

 


Our favorite activity while staying at El Sol was the epic horseback ride through the wilderness with only the two of us and our guide. We stopped for a swim and a delightful lunch at a remote waterfall and had a total blast. We also enjoyed exploring Santa Elena, the small and rustic town just a short cab ride away from El Sol. It was definitely worth the 30 minute walk from the main part of town to a more remote part of town where we enjoyed lunch at Stella’s Bakery and coffees at the Monte Verde Coffee Center. In the main part of town, we were exceptionally pleased with our meal at Taco Taco, where my fried avocado tacos and hibiscus iced tea were to die for. One night we had drinks at another gem, Tree House restaurant. Although we didn’t eat there, the drinks were delish, the atmosphere was very unique and cool, and the live music was so much fun.

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Lunch at Taco Taco. Yum!

From El Sol we traveled to Santa Teresa, a beach town in the Puntarenas province situated near Mal Pais and Montezuma. We traveled during the wet season, considered the slow or low season in Costa Rica. We found that some restaurants and shops were closed or had weird hours, but overall we liked the low season because the foliage and greenery were robust and there were far fewer crowds and people to deal with. We zipped from town to town and to each activity on our rented ATV (sooo much fun), and spent our days hiking in the beautiful Cabo Blanco Reserve, the first reserve in Costa Rica, and hiking to each of the three waterfalls of Montezuma. Our day in Cabo Blanco was my absolute favorite day. We made the four hour round trip hike to the most beautiful and pristine beach I’ve ever seen, and because it was a protected beach and because it was the low season, we were the only people there. Incredible. We wrapped up our afternoon with an amazing Mexican lunch at the beach front restaurant, Habenero in Santa Teresa. The food, the view, and the friendly staff were all on point. We actually ended up going back to Habenero for drinks one night and dinner on another as it’s the perfect place to enjoy the Costa Rican sunsets.

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Our bungalow in Santa Teresa
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The porch of our private bungalow in Santa Teresa

In Santa Teresa we stayed at the Funky Monkey Lodge which pretty much epitomized what I envisioned Costa Rica to be. The Funky Monkey is a bit rustic, but in a cool surfer-beach-y way. Our private bungalow was the perfect place to hang out while the afternoon rains of the wet season poured down. The Funky Monkey is situated just off the main drag, in the thick of the action. And the sushi there (served on Wednesday and Saturday nights) was nothing short of amazing. On the topic of food, our meals in Santa Teresa were out of this world. The fresh fruit smoothies at every restaurant were enough to keep me satisfied. But I didn’t have to rely on the smoothies for satisfaction. To make things easy, here’s a simple and straightforward list of my favorite places to eat in the area…

The Bakery, Santa Teresa/Mal Pais, our favorite breakfast spot that also serves lunch and dinner (a local favorite, always popping)

Habenero, Santa Teresa, beachside dining at a luxurious lodge, typical (but exceptional) Mexican food

Cafe Social, Santa Teresa, fast-casual stop for fresh breakfast/lunch wraps, sandwiches and salads

Zwart Cafe, Santa Teresa, casual breakfast and lunch spot serving up super healthy food in a dreamy art gallery

Case Del Mar, Santa Teresa, lunch and dinner spot in a super cool outdoor/indoor space with brick-oven pizza and the best fruit smoothies (lemon-pineapple was the bomb)

Burger Rancho, Santa Teresa, popular family-friendly lunch and dinner joint, small and charming setting with a long list of burger options

Zulu Restaurant, Santa Teresa, delicious falafel and Mediterranean specialties like hummus and shwarma

Cocolores, Montezuma, beach front dining with exceptional and eclectic food and an unassuming entrance


My trip with Matt to Costa Rica was an absolutely unforgettable experience. Although I have a new found appreciation for the comfort and familiarity of traveling to the same places over and over again, there’s something exciting and fulfilling about seeing and experiencing new places, especially those that push me out my comfort zone. I’ve learned that there are two things I need to fully enjoy a vacation. Of course, fresh, inspiring and delicious food is the first must. And the second must is suitable lodgings that I look forward to going back to between activities. A part of me wishes I was more laid back about hostels and the bed I sleep in while traveling, but that’s obviously not who I am. However, I don’t need to stay in the most luxurious hotel either. All I need is a place that feels clean and where the ambiance is comfy, cozy and inviting. Although there were two nights of semi-questionable hostel lodging, El Sol and Funky Monkey both exceeded my expectations and I would go back to either one in a heartbeat.


As I said before, the most important aspect for me when traveling is being able to eat my way through the experience (shocker). The fresh, healthy, farm-to-table dining that was emphasized in each of the restaurants we visited was awesome.

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Montezuma Waterfalls
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Cabo Blanco Reserve

This trip was a learning experience and a full-on adventure that opened my eyes to a completely different culture and way of living. I can confidently say that Costa Rica is worth the trip, especially for the traveler with a big appetite for scrumptious food, a love for nature and wildlife, and the need for tons of beachy fun in the sun.

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Thanks, Costa Rica!

Rich & Creamy Vegan Vodka Sauce

Rich & Creamy Vegan Vodka Sauce

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Happy Friday, everyone!

If you read my last post sharing a delicious recipe for Eggplant & White Bean Veggie Balls, then you know that I served these delicious “meatballs” with a homemade Vegan Vodka Sauce. The sauce was so tasty that I just had to share the recipe. And just in time for the weekend, the best time to spend some relaxation time in the kitchen.

With everything I have going on in my life (work, blogging, yoga, social life, etc.), I’d be crazy not to take advantage of shortcuts when it comes to food and cooking. A tasty jar of red sauce (made with only natural ingredients, of course) is one of those shortcuts that I often take advantage of. But still, nothing compares to a homemade tomato sauce bursting with fresh Italian flavor. So when I have the time to make my own tomato sauce, I’m all over it.

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When thinking about the sauce I wanted to make to go along with the veggie balls, I really wanted to experiment with a new homemade (and vegan-friendly) sauce. Vodka Sauce was an easy choice for Matt and me because we’ve been talking about making our own version of vodka sauce for some time now. Adding vodka to a freshly made tomato sauce was simple enough, because I’ve made red sauce a million times and I always have vodka in the freezer. The real question was how to achieve the richness, creaminess and beautiful pink color of a traditional vodka sauce…without using cream.

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Let’s get something straight. I love real cream. On weekends, I always treat myself to iced coffee with a splash of half-and-half. And there’s nothing like a whipped cream frosting on a moist cake. But not for this recipe. Why not use cream? Well, not only do I like the challenge of omitting dairy from recipes, but I also like to keep some days and meals dairy-free for the health and ecological benefits. So for this sauce, I’m going cream-free.

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To replace the rich cream, I decided to try a vegan cream made from raw cashews. Since I’ve never made cashew cream myself, I used a recipe from Beard & Bonnet as a guide. It was so simple, just soak the cashews and then grind them up with water, lemon juice and salt until a delectably smooth cream is formed. Easy enough. While the cashews soaked I made the red sauce and vodka portion of the sauce.

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This sauce is classic. Fresh plum tomatoes, lots of garlic, yellow onion and a blend of dried Italian seasonings. Not so classic is my use of coconut oil, rather than olive oil or butter. I find that coconut oil has the richness of butter and creates the subtle sweetness that I love about vodka sauce, without adding dairy or sweetener. I love what the coconut oil does for this sauce, so although it may sound strange, it’s worth a try.

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I hope everyone has a super Friday and lovely weekend! And if you feel like kicking Sunday dinner up a notch, why not try this amazing vegan vodka sauce.

Creamy Vegan Vodka Sauce
Serves: 4   Start to Finish: 2 hours (45 minutes active)Ingredients2 tablespoons Coconut Oil
4 cloves Garlic
1 yellow Onion
2 pounds Tomatoes (I used Organic Plum Tomatoes)
1 cup Water (plus more if necessary)
2 teaspoons Sea Salt*
1 teaspoon Dried Basil
1 teaspoon Dried Oregano
1 teaspoon Dried Thyme
1/2 teaspoon Black Pepper
1/4 teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flake
1/3-1/2 cup quality Vodka**
1/4-1/2 cup Cashew Cream (get Beard & Bonnet’s recipe here or my adaptation below)

To Make

Cut tomatoes and onions into a fine dice. Finely mince garlic.

Heat coconut oil and garlic over medium heat, allow garlic to sizzle for 1-2 minutes. Add onion. Cook onion and garlic for 6-8 minutes. Add tomatoes, water and seasoning. When liquid boils, reduce to simmer. Simmer covered for 90 minutes. You can leave the sauce with some texture or you can use a food processor or emulsion blender to get a smoother consistency (I like something in the middle so I use an emulsion blender to break it up a little bit).

To make vodka sauce, carefully mix vodka into the hot (or reheated) red sauce (or 2 1/2 or 3 cups of any red sauce). Add 1/2 cup vodka. Simmer uncovered for 10 minutes or until alcohol is cooked off. Remove from heat. Stir in 1/4 cup vegan cashew cream (see recipe below) or 1/4 cup dairy cream. You can add more or less cream depending on your taste.

*adjust salt according to personal taste
**i used 1/2 cup of vodka and I could definitely taste it, in a great way. 1/4 cup or 1/3 cup will work, just with a lighter vodka flavor. Your call!

Cashew Cream Recipe (adapted from Beard & Bonnet’s recipe)
1.5 cups raw, unsalted Cashews
1 1/4 cups water (more or less)*
1 tablespoon Lemon Juice (or half of a large lemon)
3/4 teaspoon salt (more or less)

Soak raw cashews in a bowl of filtered water for 1-4 hours. Add soaked cashews to a food processor or high powered blender. Add water salt and lemon juice. Blend until smooth.

I used a food processor and it took longer than I expected. I had to stop and hand stir/scrape the bowl a couple times. When in doubt, just keep blending.

*start with 3/4 cup water and add more as needed

Roasted Tomato & Creamy White Bean Pita Sandwiches

Roasted Tomato & Creamy White Bean Pita Sandwiches

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It’s Day 3 of my “debloat and recharge detox” and I’m feeling good and staying motivated. My detoxes are easy in that I’m not seriously reducing calories or only eating cabbage soup. It’s more about portion controlling, loading up on veggies and fruits (even more than usual) and reducing excess fat, sugar and carbs. Because I pretty much always stick to high quality and whole ingredients, it’s mostly about portion controlling and some calorie counting.

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I’m not big on calorie counting for a couple reasons. First is because I’ve spent so much time calorie counting throughout the years that I have a pretty good sense of roughly how many calories are in most foods, allowing me to be unconsciously aware of how much I’m eating. I also don’t like counting calories because I think it can take the fun out of eating a cooking. And lastly, I don’t like counting calories because I find it to be misleading in terms of choosing an unhealthy food over a healthy food just because they are equal in calories. With that said, when trying to trim down and debloat, I’ve found that it happens much faster if you’re staying within a low-to-moderate calorie range. So when detoxing I stay within a 1,500-1,900 calorie range, typically shooting for around 1,600. Obviously this varies by person, but I’ve found this to be a sustainable, satisfying and effective range for myself.

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So the question is, what kinds of delicious and healthy foods do I eat during my detox regimens. Today I’m sharing my recipe for a super tasty pita pocket sandwich that clocks in at about 445 calories. I made these for both Matt and I to bring to work on Monday, and I kid you not, Matt actually called this sandwich one of the best things he’s ever eaten. Matt is the ultimate meat-eater-man so for him to say something so light and healthy is also super yummy means a lot.

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These pita sandwiches are a super simple combination of homemade white bean spread, oven-roasted cherry tomatoes and fresh baby spinach, all stuffed into a Demascus Bakery Whole Wheat Pita Pocket. I buy these pitas at Whole Foods and I like them because they are all-natural, made with only pronounceable ingredients, and cost just $1.50 for a pack of four. When I discovered these pitas, my commitment to a whole-foodie life got so much easier.

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For the white bean spread, I use my Lemony White Bean Dip recipe which is a must-try (it’s what Matt liked best about these sandwiches). But, for simplicity’s sake, an all-natural store-bough bean dip or hummus will work too. My Garlicky Roasted Cherry Tomatoes and some fresh spinach finish off the sandwich, adding depth, flavor and nutrients. And there you have it, a detox lunch that is transportable, satisfying, and one of the best things you’ll ever eat (according to Matt, that is).

Roasted Tomato and Lemony White Bean Spread Pita Sandwiches
Serves: 2    Start to Finish: 45 minutes   Calories: 450 per serving

Ingredients

1/2 batch Roasted Cherry Tomatoes (get my recipe here)
1 14-ounce can Organic Canellini Beans
2 tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Lemon
2 cloves Garlic, crushed, peeled and roughly chopped
4-6 fresh Basil Leaves, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons pure Tahini (ground sesame seeds)
1/2 teaspoon Dried Basil
1/2-1 teaspoon Sea Salt
1/4-1/2 teaspoon Black Pepper
10-15 fresh Baby Spinach Leaves (I like using Organic Girl brand greens)
2 all-natural Whole Wheat Pita Pockets (I like Damascus Bakery brand, available at Whole Foods)

To Make

First, get the cherry tomatoes in the oven (get my recipe here). While the tomatoes roast, make the white bean spread.

For the white bean spread, reserve a 1/4 cup of the white bean liquid, then drain and rinse the beans in a colander. Set aside.

Using a vegetable peeler, peel 3-4 pieces of zest from the lemon (about 1/2 the lemon). Roughly chop them up. Add oil, garlic and lemon peel to a small skillet (the smallest you have). Turn on heat to medium-low. After 2-3 minutes, add basil leaves. Cook for 2 minutes.

Into a food processor, add beans, infused oil mixture (including zest garlic and basil), tahini, 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, dried basil, and reserved bean liquid. Pulse until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste (I added 1/2 tsp pepper and 3/4 tsp salt). Pulse until smooth.

When tomatoes are finished, allow to cool. Assemble sandwiches by cutting each pita in half and gently pulling open the pocket of each half. Spread 1/4 cup of white bean spread into each half. Evenly divided cherry tomatoes and spinach leave between pockets.

*if using store bough bean spread or hummus, you’ll need 1 cup for 2 sandwiches (4 half sandwiches)

**if possible, make tomatoes and bean spread in advance and refrigerate. This allows the flavors to fully incorporate and develop.

Best of Basic: Avocado Toast

Best of Basic: Avocado Toast

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I was long distance chatting with my mom the other day, and because our conversations often revolve around food, she was raving about an avocado toast she recently had for lunch at a cafe in my hometown, St. Louis. She then proceeded to ask how to make Avocado Toast. I could feel my face twist up as I thought, “It’s pretty self explanatory, no?” But before saying anything out loud, I quickly realized that, to her point, there’s a difference between smashed avocado slathered on any old slice of bread and a real Avocado Toast. So my mom wants to know how to make the best version of a real Avocado Toast? Challenge accepted. Continue reading “Best of Basic: Avocado Toast”

Simply Roasted Spaghetti Squash

Simply Roasted Spaghetti Squash

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November has arrived and the holiday season is right around the corner, if not already here. I’m planning to spend much of November focused on vegetarian-friendly dishes perfect for holiday feasts, cold weather entertaining, and every day meals featuring fall’s bounty. I have ideas bouncing around in my head for easy homemade biscuits, mushroom gravy, cranberry muffins, and autumn veggie patties to go anywhere a meat-eater would use turkey. But before that, I’m going to share a simple recipe for one of my favorite fall produce items, spaghetti squash. For years I’ve been roasting spaghetti squash to use in place of pasta. Once you have this simple roasting technique down that creates the thin pasta-like flesh of this squash variety, the possibilities are endless. Top the spaghetti-like strands of squash with any pasta sauce and you’ve got a guilt-free, gluten-free bowl of pasta-ish deliciousness. Continue reading “Simply Roasted Spaghetti Squash”

Traveling Foodie: Summertime in Chicago

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Chicago over 4th of July weekend was a huge success filled with lots of activity and even more food. I’ve been to Chicago plenty of times being that I grew up not too far away in St. Louis, but this was Matt’s first time so that gave us an excuse to be unapologetically touristy for the weekend. While our days were filled to the brim, there are a few highlights that are worth a try in my opinion….

1. Batter and Berries – This popular Lincoln Park breakfast and brunch gem is an absolute must if you can manage it. Warned that there would be a wait, we arrived at 8:50am and only waited about 25 minutes for our table, but within 10 minutes of our arrival the wait was much longer. The decor is sunny and cheery, the staff is beyond friendly, and the food is homemade deliciousness.

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Famous for their Super Flight French Toast, we immediately knew we had to try it. The Super Flight includes a half slice of all four of their french toast flavors plus a half slice of the rotating special french toast. My favorite was the Cherry Pie special variety but Caramel Pecan was a close second.

Our second entree to split was another special, the Lobster and Shrimp Cake Benedict, which was served with freshly grated cheesy hash-browns. This dish was nothing short of amazing. Good start to the weekend, right?

2. Chicago Architecture River Cruise – From Batter and Berries we hopped on our Divy Bikes (Chicago’s shared bike program, just $7 per day and a great way to get around when it’s nice out) and headed downtown to our Architecture Tour. This tour is absolutely worth the time and the money (about $50 per person after taxes). Our volunteer tour guide was knowledgeable and charismatic and the weather was perfect, so we really lucked out. But no matter what, the buildings and stories behind them are fascinating. We could even see the tents of die-hard Grateful Dead fans hidden on the river’s edge. The tour is a quick 90 minutes. Be sure to arrive at least 30 minutes early and get in line to secure good seats and drinks at the full bar with time to spare.

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“Dead Heads” camping along the river. Chicago hosted the Grateful Dead’s final shows ever over the weekend.

3. Green City Market in Lincoln Park – On Saturday morning Matt, my friend Karen, and I had a lovely time walking through the Lincoln Park farmer’s market. There were samples galore of everything from fresh tofu, cheese, pancakes, pickled vegetables, and hot sauces. Along with fresh produce, flowers, and goods, there were also several food stands. We opted for the freshly made mozzarella sticks from Zullo’s, which were the best I’ve ever had. Before walking around we grabbed coffee from Elaine’s at Hotel Lincoln, right across from the market on Clark. It was fab and just what we needed.

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4. Lou Malnati’s – If there was one meal I was going to share with Matt while in Chicago, it was deep dish pizza from Lou Malnati’s. It’s just so good. We chose the Old Town Location which is a combination of lively sports bar and crowded pizza joint. The house salad (salami on the side) was delish, and The Lou deep dish pizza (spinach mix, mushrooms, and tomatoes) was perfectly cheesy and flavorful. Not much more to say about this place, it’s just freakin’ good.

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What a fabulous weekend in Chicago this was. We cannot wait to go back and try some more!