Wordless Wednesday: Costa Rica Dreaming

It’s been a little over a week since I was in sunny Costa Rica, relaxing in the hot baths, sunning myself on the beach, ziplining and rappelling. So for today’s Wordless Wednesday, I’m reminiscing … and sharing some vacation photos. #SorryImNotSorry

B ziplining in Monteverde

B ziplining in Monteverde

Enjoying the Monteverde sunset

Enjoying the Monteverde sunset

We saw toucans!

We saw toucans!

Wayyy to excited to be hands free rappelling.

Wayyy too excited to be hands free rappelling.

 

Relaxing by the hot baths

Relaxing by the hot baths

boat ride to Arenal

boat ride to Arenal

Beautiful countryside

Beautiful countryside

Goats! (we later ate their cheese)

Goats! (we later ate their cheese)

Ready for the beach wedding

Ready for the beach wedding

My date for the wedding

My date for the wedding

That’s all for now. As they say in Costa Rica, Pura Vida!

Cookie Dough Easter Eggs

Holy cow, where has April gone? It seems like just last week B and I were going to Ash Wednesday Mass and I was preparing to give up meat yet again for Lent.

Anyway, the 40ish days have pretty much concluded – meaning, not only am I going to be eating meat again soon, but we also get to prepare Easter desserts!

This year, I’ll be making a few of my favorite cookie dough truffles or cookie balls – and shaping them like eggs so that they become … voila! Easter Egg Cookie Dough Balls. You can really make these with any of your favorite truffle recipes, so I choose the chocolate chip cookie recipe but dipped in white chocolate (you can do regular chocolate if you like too, they may be harder to decorate though):

cookie dough easter eggs - i crashed the webi

Cookie Dough Easter Eggs

Here’s what you need:

  • 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 14 oz bag of candy coating

Here’s what you do:

  1. Cream butter and sugar. Add milk and vanilla and mix on high speed with an electric mixer.
  2. Stir in flour on low speed (or by hand) until incorporated. Stir in mini chocolate chips.
  3. Cover and chill dough for 1 hour or overnight.
  4. When dough is firm enough to handle, form dough into 1″ round balls. Then shape into somewhat flattened egg shapes and arrange on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or foil.
  5. Place dough ball-filled sheet in freezer and let chill for  at least 30 minutes.
  6. After cookie dough balls have hardened in the freezer, it’s time to dip them in the melted chocolate! Melt chocolate candy coating in the microwave or according to package directions. Using a fork, dip eggs into melted milk chocolate and coat completely.
  7. Return chocolate-covered balls to parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Chill until set.
  8. Enjoy! They’re pretty awesome.

To decorate:

  • Sprinkles: while melting chocolate is wet on the egg, sprinkle colored sugars or sprinkles over egg.
  • Drizzled chocolate: melt different colored melting chocolate according to package directions – or add food coloring to white chocolate – and use a fork to drizzle colored chocolate over the white chocolate base. If chocolate is too thick to drizzle, add some shortening to thin out chocolate a little. Do not add too much – and do not add water to chocolate! I just drizzled with my fork, but here is some more info on drizzling technique.

There are so many variations on this recipe – you could make them in so many different flavors including Birthday Cake Truffles, Cookies and Cream Truffles, Chocolate Peanut Butter Truffles, Baileys Truffles and more! Just choose you favorite, shape them into eggs and you’re done.

 

raw cookie dough balls easter eggs - i crashed the web

Cookie dough is shaped and ready to chill

raw cookie dough balls easter eggs - i crashed the web

be careful – they’re addicting!

raw cookie dough balls easter eggs - i crashed the web

decorate with sprinkles or drizzle with chocolate

Enjoy! What are you baking for Easter? Do you have a favorite truffle recipe?

Weekend Update: It’s Been 5 Weeks …

It’s been FIVE whole weeks since I’ve spent a weekend in Cleveland. Oh boy! No wonder I was feeling super excited and almost giddy for a weekend of staying home and enjoying what looked like an amazing weather forecast:

costa rica weather

Okay, okay – you got me. That’s not Cleveland. But it was darn close – this weekend we saw sunny, 70 degree temps BOTH DAYS. For my friends in Southern California I know that’s not a big deal – but holy cow, it felt great here!

Some highlights from the weekend:

Friday night started with dinner at Flaming Ice Cube with a few other friends. Oh kalebouli hummus wrap – how I have missed thee!

Kalebouli humus wrap from the Flaming Ice Cube

Kalebouli humus wrap from the Flaming Ice Cube

And then a comedy show – Marc Maron was in town! B got me hooked on his stuff – his podcast and show are both pretty funny – and then of course I loved his act. I was crying of laughter at his last bit, where he talked about his Time Warner Cable customer service experience.

(not from the show i saw but from his TV show)

Saturday morning started with an 8 mile run – in a SHORT sleeved shirt and capris. Yes – it was finally warm enough to run without leggings, a jacket, gloves, etc. Hooray!

post-run sweaty pic

post-run unflattering sweaty pic

And then B and I hit the first Cleveland Flea of the year. It was super crowded – I guess word has caught on and combined with the good weather, it seems like everyone was there.

perfect day for the first Cleveland Flea.

perfect day for the first Cleveland Flea.

After the Flea we headed to the West Side Market to pick up groceries of the week. I still can’t believe it’s been five weeks since I’ve been there! Oh, and of course we had to stop for some lunch at the Souper Market.

awesome veggie lentil soup and amazing hunk of bread.

awesome veggie lentil soup and amazing hunk of bread.

No trip to Ohio City is complete without a stop at Rising Star

No trip to Ohio City is complete without a stop at Rising Star

Friday night we ended up hanging in, enjoying homemade pizza and wine and catching up on some episodes of Game of Thrones. No spoilers – we’re only on season 2!

one of too many slices :) homemade mushroom zaa!

one of too many slices :) homemade mushroom zaa!

Sunday was another gorgeous day, so after Palm Sunday Mass, B and I decided to take a walk to the lake. I love living so close to water – there’s just something so relaxing about big bodies of water, isn’t there? (Lake Erie is huge – it feels like an ocean, it’s not like I can see Canada)

They've really revamped the Cleveland Theater District this year - coming soon ... a chandelier!

They’ve really revamped the Cleveland Theater District this year – coming soon … a chandelier!

view from the water

view from the water

We also enjoyed some of our favorite Lebanese food for lunch. Yes, I had hummus twice this weekend and I’m not ashamed. This time it was my favorite hummus, at my favorite Lebanese place (look at those pita pillows!), Taza.

my favorite hummus.

my favorite hummus.

And some baking. I don’t think a weekend would be complete without at least some baking – don’t you agree?

Here's what I ended up making - cookie dough easter eggs!

Here’s what I ended up making – cookie dough easter eggs! I’ll share the recipe tomorrow

Some questions for you:

Did you enjoy some good weather this weekend? Were you able to get outside? A run and outdoor market on Saturday, a long walk with B on Sunday. Simply marvelous!

What sort of things do you buy at flea markets? I’ve never bought anything for myself at the Flea (well besides fruits/veggies from local farm stands) – just gifts. What do you buy at flea markets?

Is it ever too warm for soup? I don’t think so! I love soup year round – even in the summer.

Do you like comedy shows?Are you a Marc Maron fan?

What I’m Loving Lately: Snacktime Edition

Snacks on snacks on snacks! I’m not one of those people who eats three meals a day and that’s it. I have always been a snacker – I love eating several times a day and definitely get int that 3 p.m. snacktime mode. Here are a few snacks I’ve been enjoying lately:

Chocolate Covered Coffee Beans

B and I picked up these beauties in Costa Rica and I can’t tell you enough HOW GOOD they are. They’re sweet and caffeinated at the same time – a great afternoon pick-me-up or really just anytime snack. I personally love the white chocolate (they taste like lattes!) but the dark chocolate aren’t that bad either (am I the only person who prefers milk and white chocolate to dark chocolate?).

cafebritt

My Oatmeal: 

I got a chance to sample this for free thanks to a Sweat Pink promotion and I am IN LOVE! My Oatmeal has a ton of fun oatmeal varieties (like PB&J Cupcake!) and they also let you make custom oatmeal from a a variety of ingredients listed on their website – they then ship your custom oatmeal to you directly. There are about a bazillion combinations (okay, maybe not that many) and the one I opted for had the following: rolled oats and flax, brown sugar and oatmeal cookie flavors, with coconut, ginger, date, mangos and apricots. YUM! Oh and of course I called it Melissa’s Blend because I’m just that creative.

myoatmeal

It arrived while I was on vacation and it was such an awesome surprise to open after we got back. I was pumped. Take a look!

IT HAS MY NAME ON IT

IT HAS MY NAME ON IT

Look at that dried fruit!

Look at that dried fruit!

Obviously you can eat it as regular oatmeal. But some other cool things you can do:

  • Make granola with it. In my favorite granola recipe, just swap out the oats with the oatmeal! You probably can use less dried fruit if you want to since my blend has dried fruit in it AND less sweetener (brown sugar and/or honey) if you choose an Oatmeal that’s sweet.
  • Make cookies! I love oatmeal cookies and don’t doubt that adding some of this oatmeal would be a delicious add-in.
  • Eat it dry. I’m not gonna lie – I took a bag with me to work to eat as a snack – and just ate it dry. I had fully intended to cook it up and then just ate it dry. And I enjoyed it.

Kalebouli

I love tabbouleh and the first time I tried kalebouli I also fell in love. One of my favorite ways to eat kalebouli is actually on a wrap with hummus (okay I guess this isn’t quite a snack) – and the Flaming Ice Cube in Cleveland has an amazing kalebouli wrap.

But if you want to try making your own kalebouli so that you can try it as a snack – here is a recipe from the blog, Fragrant Vanilla Cake. You can make yur own pita chips and dip them in the kalebouli, or serve it with chopped veggies, pita, and hummus. Yum!

 

My standard from the Flaming Ice Cube - Kalebouli Hummus Wrap!

My standard from the Flaming Ice Cube – Kalebouli Hummus Wrap!

 

Some questions for you:

  • What are your favorite snacks to beat the 3 p.m. hunger? All of the above. Also a fan of anything sweet/salty – chocolate covered pretzels, Chex Mix, etc.
  • Are you a snacker? Prefer 3 meals a day and that’s it? Yup, i’m a snacker. But B isn’t. He has pretty much breakfast, lunch and dinner. Sometimes he’ll eat carrots and peanut butter at work but that’s it. I bring LOADS of snacks and get pretty hangry when I don’t!
  • Do you like oatmeal? Do you ever eat it “raw”? I can’t be the only one ..
  • Dark chocolate? White chocolate? Which do you prefer?

 

Disclosure: I was given a free sample of My Oatmeal to try out via Fit Approach. All opinions are my own and I was in no other way compensated for this post. I have not been given any free kalebouli, free Flaming Ice Cube (unless you count the gift card my parents got me for my birthday?) or free chocolate covered coffee beans – but I’d love any of those! 

Friday Five: Five Things You MUST Do in Costa Rica

OK, this was a really hard post to write. Why? Because I’ve only been to Costa Rica twice, and when I was there I was only able to visit a few cities. So I’m by NO MEANS an expert. AND because there are so many things to do while you’re in Costa Rica that choosing five is nearly impossible! So I apologize in advance if I missed something terribly important … but just let me know in the comments!

In no order … if you are visiting Costa Rica, here’s what I recommend you do:

Try out ziplining in Monteverde.

I had been ziplining once before – also in Monteverde when in high school – so I knew what to expect. And I really enjoyed it again. B, who has a somewhat fear of heights, also enjoyed the zipline – and at the place where we went, Selvatura, the last zipline included a “couple’s zipline” – meaning we zipped holding onto one another for 1,000 m. For those of you Americans, that’s a little more than 2/3 of a mile long. It was so long that we couldn’t see the end of the line but still amazing. And we enjoyed some breathtaking views.

I know other areas have ziplining (including Arenal) but our experience was awesome. And 1,000 m is far longer than the longest Arenal zipline from what I have seen. I did see signs in Monteverde for the “longest zipline in Costa Rica” that was 1,600 meters (aka 1 mile) so there’s always that option as well if 1,000 m is 600 meters too short for you!

ready to zipline!

ready to zipline!

Rappel and try out other canyoneering activities (cliff jumping into jungle rivers, rope/vine swinging)

Let me start by saying I’m NOT an adventurous person. I don’t like to be scared. I have never skydived and have no idea how to waterski (I guess that’s not adventurous but I just wanted to show you how lame I actually am). Using the high-dive at the public pool during summer camp is probably the bravest I have ever been. But when in Rome … (or Costa Rica)? B had booked us for a half-day canyoneering trip and I was scared. On the bus ride to the canyon, the guide was explaining the trip. “First we do a rappel down next to a big rock. You must stop halfway down on the rope, see the rock, and then continue down into the raging river of the canyon. Then we do a tarzan swing on a rope into the river, but be careful because it’s not that deep. Then a longer rappel but you have to be careful on this one because the cave wall is narrow and you can’t swing out or you’ll cut yourself on the rock. Then a zipline. Then a rappel down a waterfall and you’re not allowed to use your hands…” You get the idea. Let’s just say I was not looking forward to it and nearly had a nervous breakdown on the van ride over.

Yup, scared.

Yup, scared.

 

B and me mid-canyoneering trip

B and me mid-canyoneering trip…you can sorta see our matching shoes!

 

jumping into the water after a rappel. yes, we got wet.

jumping into the water after a rappel. yes, we got wet.

 

BUT somehow I REALLY liked it. Was I an expert rappeller? No. But did I have to be? No that’s what our guides were for. The first one made me nervous. But after that? And a few dunks into the water?? I was good as new.

Enjoy the local cuisine and drinks

I am such a fan of the food in Latin America. I know you won’t all agree with me, but my love for spicy food, fresh seafood, amazingly fresh fruit, along with living in Ecuador probably helps my tastebuds. Anyway, here are a few things to try while you’re here:

Casados: Literally it means married (i think?). It’s great. It’s a protein (fish, chicken, pork, etc.) with rice and beans, sometimes plantains, a salad and cheese. I can’t get enough of their queso fresco – my favorite cheese. You won’t leave hungry.

one of the many fish casados i enjoyed. this was at tico y rico in monteverde.

one of the many fish casados i enjoyed. this was at tico y rico in monteverde.

Sopa: I LOVED the black bean and egg soup. I love black bean soup ordinarily, but the Costa Rican version is sublime. Plus it has a hard boiled or even sometimes softer egg in there which is pretty awesome.

black bean soup at don luis in monteverde

black bean soup with an egg at don luis in monteverde

Fried plantains and plantain chips: Sweet or salty/savory, what’s not to like about these banana-like fruits?

Yuca: I love yuca in all its forms. Fried yuca. Yuca chips. Yuca bread. Mashed yuca. YUM!

Guaro: Guaro is the local vodka-like alcohol. Guaro sour is a popular drink and it’s pretty delicious if you like sweet/sour drinks. Local rum is pretty good as well as the local beer.

Ceviche: I love almost all ceviche but the ceviche in Costa Rica that I had was also amazing. I had it about 6 times, so nearly every other day. And that wasn’t nearly enough!

ceviche by the pool at hotel nayara

ceviche by the pool at hotel nayara

All of the fruit: Seriously. Eat it all. Best pineapple I’ve ever had (even B ate it. And he hates pineapple), amazing coconut from the side of the road, the maracuya and guanabana are also awesome.

fresh fruit breakfast at sugar beach

fresh fruit breakfast at sugar beach

There are so many more foods to try, but since I had given up meat for Lent, I stayed vegetarian/pescatarian the entire time so the above recommendations are based on that.

Enjoy some hot baths and hot springs in Arenal

The volano Arenal is not only beautiful, but from what I can tell, it supplies tons of heat for the hot baths and springs in the neighboring town. Tabacon has some of the best hot springs (went there in high school) and B and I also enjoyed the baths at Baldi - there were many options, each pool had a swim up bar, and most had a “cool pool” (of like 65 degrees) so you could heat up in the hot bath, then cool down, then heat up, etc.

sitting outside one of the hot pools

sitting outside one of the hot pools

Snorkel, swim, and enjoy the ocean(s)

Due to time constraints, B and I only had time to experience the western and Pacific coast of the country. But if you go, see both coasts. They are different. See different beaches, swim in the oceans, snorkel, experience black sand beaches and more. I even was able to see a blowfish – and touch it! Yup. You’re in a tropical country – do it all, put on some sunscreen and enjoy!

sunsets along the beach = awesome

sunsets along the beach = awesome

BONUS: Take a coffee tour

Okay, okay, I couldn’t pick just 5. While you’re in Costa Rica, you must see a coffee plantation. Coffee is one of the country’s top 5 exports, so why not se how it’s produced?  I must admit that the coffee tour we went on when I was in high school, while enjoyable and educational, was pretty touristy. We got free coffee samples, walked around the grounds (pun intended hehe) and saw stations that showcased the different processes of making coffee. The tour B and I did – Monteverde Coffee Tour –  was MUCH better and seemed much more authentic – I highly recommend you go on this. We had a nearly private tour of some Costa Rican farmer’s land – saw all of this livestock, learned about what they all did on the farm and how they contributed in some way to the coffee process/circle of life, walked among real coffee and other plants (banana trees, lime/orange trees), and really learned about life as a Costa Rican and a farmer. And more than i ever wanted to know about coffee. They didn’t try to sell us anything at the end (we had to ask them if we could buy coffee) and  we enjoyed some amazing locally made (that day!) goat cheese from their goats.

how our coffee was made

how our coffee was made

pretending to do work

pretending to do work

B participating in the cupping portion of our tasting

B participating in the cupping portion of our tasting

PS – Happy birthday to my brother Greg! This has nothing to do with Costa Rica but I thought he deserved a shout out.

 

Possibly the Best Vacation Ever

If you follow me on Instagram or Twitter, you’ve probably noticed that I’ve been traveling – or at least posting photos of a tropical location – for the past few weeks. B and I just got back from quite possibly our best vacation ever. Shh, don’t tell him that – I think he would disagree – after all, our honeymoon in Tortola (BVI) was amazing … as was driving around Ireland. But this trip combined pretty much everything I love – good food, good company, good drinks, good weather, the beach, and even some adventures.

I won’t bore you with the day-to-day details of our ten day adventure (I mean you’d probably just get jealous and want to hop a plane to Costa Rica immediately), or write this blog post in Spanish (después de diez días en Costa Rica, mi español ha mejorado mucho. Al fin de nuestro viaje, yo estaba practicando y hablando español con todos los ticos.) But instead, here’s a snapshot of some of what we did (and don’t worry, at least one more post is coming).

The trip started in Guanacaste, along the beach. B and I were in town for the wedding of our friends Ted and Suzanne, which took place along the coast at Sugar Beach. The wedding was probably one of the best I have been too – it was small, the dancing was fun, it was outdoors and the setting was gorgeous!

 

mariachi band at the wedding

mariachi band at the wedding

beach wedding

wedding on the beach!

wedding on the beach!

probably the only picture of me in a bathing suit you'll ever see. This is what renting a catamaran looks like. I'm pretending it's a wild and crazy time.

probably the only picture of me in a bathing suit you’ll ever see. This is what renting a catamaran looks like. I’m pretending it’s a wild and crazy time.

While in Guanacaste, we swam along the beach, and even rented a catamaran with the couples’ friends to go snorkeling and swimming for the day. Best day ever.

After the wedding weekend, B and I were of to Monteverde, a city located in a cloud forest. While there we enjoyed some more awesome meals, a tour of a coffee plantation, ziplining and hiking along hanging bridges in the forest. And no, it wasn’t cloudy at all those days – something I enjoyed very much.

not-so-cloudy at monteverde cloud forest

not-so-cloudy at monteverde cloud forest

grinding my own coffee, the old fashioned way

grinding my own coffee, the old fashioned way

The trip ended with an amazing stay in Arenal. We enjoyed hot baths, awesome views of waterfalls, an amazing hotel (hotel Nayara in Arenal is quite possibly the best hotel I’ve stayed in in my life. Jacuzzis for every room, an amazing spa, happy hour, a nice gym, free cookies at night and an outdoor shower for your private cabana. Look it up and book it immediately!) and some more adventures including spa treatments and massages (does that count as an adventure if I don’t usually do that?) AND canyoneering, rappelling and swinging through waterfalls in the jungle, quite literally.

2014-03-31 09.02.27

canyoneering!

canyoneering! Yes I’m frightened

looking like I know what I'm doing

trying to look like I know what I’m doing

The trip was just what I needed. I read 4ish books, got some sun, relaxed, worked out, and got a few adrenaline rushes. I know people say they NEED a vacation all the time I know, but I NEEDED the vacation. And now I’m sure I’ll need a vacation from my vacation ;)

What’s the best vacation you’ve ever taken?

Have you ever been to Costa Rica? Yes I went for a high school field trip during our February break. So much fun but this trip with my husband was a lot different :)

Do you like ziplining? Rappelling? Canyoneering? Ziplining I love! Rappelling with ropes down the side of cliffs and along waterfalls scared me .. but I ended up loving it.

Do you speak any other languages? Hablo un poco de español. Ahora puedo entender más que yo puedo hablar. 

 

 

Meatless Monday: Vegetarian “Fried Rice”

Since giving up meat for Lent another year in a row, I’ve actually had very little chance to play around with vegetarian recipes this year. It’s been 3 weeks, and due to a busy work schedule, B and I have been living on leftovers, Chipotle, Flaming Ice Cube and other takeouts. As much as I love all of those – I’m getting tired of it and can’t wait until returning to normalcy and eating home again!

Anyway, on one of the few nights we were home, I realized we pretty much had all the ingredients to make a Quinoa Fried Rice recipe I had seen online. So while B was busy going for a run (I had worked out in the morning), I got busy, threw together my usual stir fry ingredients with a few extras (including eggs and quinoa) and voila - there you have it – vegetarian (well I guess technically it’s ovo-vegetarian) “fried rice.” This made about 4 servings – I had mine as a main meal and B had his with a side of some chicken that I made in the same sauce.

vegetarian fried rice with quinoa - i crashed the web

Vegetarian “Fried Rice” (with quinoa and egg)

Here’s what you need:

  • Pam or other cooking spray
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 egg, beaten, with 1 egg white
  • 2 cloves garlic, diced
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce, divided
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/2 head broccoli, chopped into florets
  • 1/2 eggplant, chopped into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 cup asparagus, chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and grated
  • 2 to 2 1/2 cups cooked quinoa (I used 2 cups so our portions had more veggies than quinoa – if you prefer a higher ratio of quinoa to veggies, aim for 2 1/2 cups)
  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
  • 2 green onions, sliced
  • Sriracha sauce, for serving

Here’s what you do:

  1. Spray a small skillet with Pam or other cooking spray and turn into medium to medium-low heat. Add beaten eggs and cook for about 2 minutes per side, flipping once. Let cool, then dice into small pieces. Reserve.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat remaining olive oil over medium-high heat. Add garlic and onion. Cook, stirring often, until onions are translucent, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add mushrooms, broccoli, eggplant and about half of the soy sauce (2 tablespoons).Cook, continuing to stir, for about another 5-6 minutes, until vegetables are tender.
  4. Add asparagus and carrots. Cook for another 2-3 minutes so vegetables cook through and absorb flavor.
  5. Add cooked (YES you must cook the quinoa first!) quinoa. Cook, stirring constantly, until heated through, about 1-2 minutes.
  6. Add freshly grated ginger and remaining soy sauce. Toss gently to combine and cook, stirring so it doesn’t burn, for about 3 more minutes.
  7. Stir in green onions and chopped eggs and serve. Drizzle Sriracha on top for added color and kick.
    vegetarian fried rice with quinoa - i crashed the web

    almost done!

    vegetarian fried rice with quinoa - i crashed the web

    ready to be eaten!