As we entered the second floor of the place that we would call home for the next five days, the expansive view of expressive sky, craggy mountains, and lush greenery settled around us, just as the heat and the moist air, like a light shawl or a deep sigh.
I’d forgotten how ‘outside’ living in a tropical climate can be. For us in Maine, most days “outdoor living” means layers of clothing. Even in the summertime when we are sailing, our wool sweaters, down vests, and hand-knit cowls are not far from reach. But here, in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica, not only were we without a single wool item or second layer, we looked out at three sides of a view though… nothing. No windows, no walls. While sheltered by the shade of the roof, the rest of the home was open on three sides to all kinds of weather. What happens if there’s a Nor’eater Jon thought? All day rain? Oh, right, not in Maine any longer. Right.
I’d forgotten the feeling of warm air on my skin, even as the sun goes down. Even as the sun is all the way down… no need for layers of clothing because the air is so warm. And no bugs like the Maine state bird (mosquitoes) ready to suck the life blood out of you. Just a couple of beetles and some moths drawn to the light of the night. (Although to be fair to the state of my heart, Maine does not have all sorts of snakes and bugs that can actually kill you.)
Jon and I spent three years in the Caribbean working on a yacht and moving up and down the Windward and Leeward Islands before we bought the Riggin. It’s been years since we’ve been back to a Caribbean climate and it didn’t take long for the sarongs, beach dried hair, and flip flops to feel like normal garb.
The impetus for this trip was to see where Chloe had spent the last 3 months of her studies. Based in the Cloud Forest of Monteverde, she explored the country through the lens of environmental science, studying the climate and natural world of Costa Rica with all of its abundance and diversity.
Our first foray into the mountains of Costa Rica was a hike into the… woods? The sensation of hiking into tree-shrouded trails, feeling the earth beneath our feet, and the birds chirping above felt just like hiking at home, except…. The leaves on the forest floor were not oak and maple, but rather, unknown The trees had abutments, vines, and epiphytes that covered their trunks. The birds did not sound like the birds at home. It was the oddest sensation of the familiar and the not, as if in a dream where you know where you are, but then it shifts into the unknown.
A trip to this country is not complete without the experience of zip lining! I could have gone again and again. Initially created by scientists to study the forest canopy in the 80’s, zip lining has become a staple of the ecotourism trade. Sailing over the tree tops, the unspoiled views are priceless. Our first meal, at Taco Taco a favorite of locals and visitors alike, introduced us to the flavors of the region. And thus I began dancing with avocados, cilantro, and lime. Also there, we had a flight of local beers which were unexpectedly good.
After exploring Chloe’s homebase, we made our way to Santa Teresa, a quintessential beach town with rolling surf, international visitors, and yoga galore. At the southern tip of the Nicoya Pennisula, there is just enough panache in Santa Teresa to make it feel like a groovy destination rather than a distant outpost. That overdevelopment has remained largely in check is due in no small part to the state of the roads one must travel to get there. Not to belabor the point, but these dirt ditches, rivulets, ponds, rock walls, and steep grades are distant cousins to the paved roads of our towns at home and yet, by the end of the week we found ourselves feeling somewhat confident in our driving abilities and blessing the roads that keep Santa Teresa so idyllic and low-key.
Once ensconced in the open air vrbo, we hardly wanted to leave to adventure. And some days we didn’t. Other days we explored the town, the beach, a nature preserve, and of course did some yoga. Casa Zen, recommended by our host for yoga, is a dorm-like hotel attracting all sorts of hipsters and 20-somethings hanging out in hammocks and a community lounge. Pranamar is on the other end of the spectrum with individual cabins set in lush grounds and an open-air yoga studio right next to the meandering pool.
Santa Teresa is known for its Pacific surf, which attracts surfers of all ages. I wanted to get into the water to play in the waves, but had to screw up my courage to make my way into the 10 to 12 foot surf. After riding the waves for a while, with my trusty captain keeping an eagle eye on me, I made my tuckered way to his side on the sand. That said, even after going out into the fray, I’m not sure I was ready to do it again. It might have almost taken even more courage to venture out a second time the strength of the waves was so impressive.
Where we ate:
Fishbar – delicious mojitos and every dish was delightful and well-balanced.
Habaneros – right on the beach, watched the sun set. Skip the margaritas and go straight for the ceviche, homemade chips, and the specials of the day.
The Bakery – After 3 months of tortillas, rice, and beans, Chloe was craving a pastry. She found satisfaction at this little gem which albeit caters to its visiting international clientele.
Sodas – The Tico (local Costa Rican) version of a Maine diner. Perfect for a bite of local eats or a fresh juice.
As we said ‘so long’ to Santa Teresa and made our way off the peninsula, we stopped at Montezuma for a quick hike up to a waterfall. A little bite at Soda Tipica Las Palmeras and we were off to meet the ferry. I swore I would not step foot on a boat while were on vacation, but saving 4 plus hours of driving seemed a small price to pay. The North Haven ferry pales in comparison to this behemoth.
Our last meal in San Jose, a hidden gem called Café Rojo, found only after following the gps in what seemed like one-way devilry, was a delight. A Vietnamese restaurant, set next to a local bookstore and art installation, it felt as if we could have been sitting down to a meal in any city in world. It was the perfect segue back into our busier stateside life.
Thank you Costa Rice for the adventure and relaxation in equal measure. Pura Vida!
Having just returned from a first-ever family vacation, I can attest with absolute certainty that there’s nothing that replaces time with family, making memories. Presents under the tree are wonderful (and the hand-made ones are the best). But even more, the gift of unrestricted time, to allow the day to unfold without an agenda and with each other, is truly without compare.
With that said, we now have a way to order gift certificates online. You don’t need to purchase a whole trip, but could just contribute to a trip for someone you love. I realize now, more poignantly, how we participate in these memories and are honored to do so.
Happy Holidays to you all!
As anyone who has sailed with us knows, Kitchen Aides and Cuisinarts are not a part of my tool kit on the Riggin. They require electricity, something I don’t have in my galley. What I do have is good, old-fashioned muscle and technique. I use very basic tools to make very special baked goods and I don’t need a lot to accomplish this.
Also, because I have limited space, the tools I do have on the boat need to be ones that I use all the time or they need to do more than one task. Here’s my list of tools that I wouldn’t go sailing without and that might spark an idea or two for the baker in your life, whether they bake on dry land or on the water.
My three favorite stores for baking and cooking tools are: The Good Table, Now You’re Cooking, and King Arthur Flour. All are wonderful, local stores with a well-curated supply of useful baking tools.
Sifter – While a whisk will work for this task, there’s nothing that works better for making light, fluffy cakes.
Scale – The best bakers weigh all of their ingredients. If nothing else, sometimes a recipe calls for a weighed amount and not a measured amount. Super helpful.
Thermometer – All baking is about details and precision. Don’t over or under bake anything again by removing it from the heat at just the right temperature.
Parchment paper – A gift from the non-stick gods. Lining cake pans and cookies sheets with parchment or with a silicone sheet helps with the least favorite part of baking – the clean up!
Whisk – Just don’t try a baking life without one. Great for thin batters, egg whites, and whipped cream, but a whisk will also work as a sifter in a pinch. Just not for those super fluffy genoise cakes and such.
Rolling pin – Wooden ones are my favorite. With or without handles, this is an essential piece of any bakers arsenal.
Pastry bag – At some point you’ll want to try your hand at pate au choux or decorating a cake. The professional way to go is with a pastry bag and at least a few basic pastry tips.
Cookie scoop – Bake cookies that are all the same size by scooping them with this cookie scoop. It makes the process go so much faster too.
Pastry knife – For making biscuits and pie crust, this tool is essential. There isn’t a day on the boat that goes by where I don’t use this handy tool.
Bench scraper – Bread bakers, pie bakers, biscuit bakers and basically anyone who gets dough on the counter for any reason will love this tool. Again, I use it on a daily basis.
Cooling rack – While this is one tool that I don’t have space for on the Riggin, I do use them at home all the time, and there I almost never have enough. 🙂
Also, doesn’t it go without saying that every baker (and cook) should have cookbooks that they love and trust (like Sugar & Salt and At Home, At Sea)?
The windows are slightly foggy in the corners and the house is filled with the redolent smells of baking chocolate, toasted coconut, and warm pecans. Right now, there might not be anything more tempting. All the while outside, the wind howls and the snow pelts the side of the house. Occasionally, a large mound of snow will slide off the roof to announce itself and inside, we are warm and cozy, baking one of our many holiday gifts. Later, when the wind dies down, I’ll go for a snow shoe in the field out back. If it’s really late, I’ll cross my fingers the sky is clear and the moon lights the way. Moments like these have me feeling grateful for family, warmth, small houses, little things, rosy cheeks, and Maine winters.
White Chocolate, Cranberry, and Pecan Bars
We also called these Everything-But-the-Kitchen-Sink Bars. They first appeared in At Home, At Sea: Recipes from a Maine Windjammer and this is a riff on that original recipe.
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted (plus a little extra for the pan)
2 cups crushed vanilla wafers or graham crackers
2 cups shredded unsweetened coconut
6 ounces shaved white chocolate or white chocolate chips; about 1 1/4 cup
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup coarsely chopped pecans
1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
Preheat oven to 300°F. Spread the coconut in a 9- x 13-inch pan and toast for 7 to 10 minutes, stirring two or three times. In a medium bowl, combine the graham crackers, melted butter, and toasted coconut. Lightly butter the 9- x 13-inch pan and then transfer the mixture, pressing firmly with your hands to pack evenly. Turn the oven temperature up to 325°F. Chill the pan for 15 minutes and then bake for 10 minutes or until it begins to turn golden.
Remove from oven and sprinkle the chocolate, cranberries, and pecans over the crust. Drizzle the sweetened condensed milk over all and bake for another 30 to 35 minutes or until the center begins to bubble just slightly.
Let cool on a wire rack and cut into 12 or 24 even pieces.
Makes 12 or 24 bars
P.S. Cookbooks make a wonderful holiday gift. Just saying.
Almost always, making something from scratch is better than anything you can buy at the grocery store. These crackers are no exception. Super crispy, super flavor, super fun – and a special addition to any holiday appetizer board (especially with Rosemary Cheese with Apricot Preserves).
I like them simple – with just salt and pepper sprinkled on them, but if you prefer, sprinkle fennel, sesame, or poppy seeds instead. Recipe excerpted from Sugar & Salt: Book 2 (The Orange Book).
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons table salt
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cup water
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
Preheat oven to 450°F. Combine all of the dry ingredients in a medium bowl and then add the oil and water. Mix together for 1 to 2 minutes until fully combined. If there are still bits of flour in the bottom of the bowl, add more water a teaspoon at a time until the flour is fully incorporated.
Transfer the dough to a floured counter. Cut the dough in half and cover one half with plastic wrap while you roll out the other to a thickness of 1/8-inch. Slice into small squares with a pizza cutter and with a spatula, transfer to a baking sheet. Sprinkle with sea salt, black pepper and the other optional toppings and bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until the edges begin to brown and the centers are firm. Repeat with the second half of the dough.
Cool completely and store in an air-tight container.
Makes about 8 dozen crackers
These crackers also make a special hostess gift, wrapped in a cellophane bag and tied up with some red and white kitchen twine.
I had the privilege of cooking with Rob Caldwell of WCSH6 and the show 207 a couple of weeks ago. The first of three segments aired last night and you can watch me making Chocolate Rosemary Tart with Sea Salt Caramel Bark here. The other two will air over the winter and as we know, we’ll let you know. The recipe for the tart is on their site and if you’ve already got Sugar & Salt: The Orange Book, then you just need to add rosemary to the recipe in the book.
This was my first time in the new O’Maine Studio, which is a lovely upgrade from the former kitchen. But it got me reminiscing as I was the first chef to do a spot in the original studio kitchen. How many years ago was that? Not gonna count.
Thanks Rob and the gang for a fun time in your new studio!
Rosemary Cheese with Apricot Preserves
A reader gave this recipe to me and I’ve adjusted it a tiny bit by adding more goat cheese. The black pepper and honey work well together next to the rosemary and the preserves just make it something really special.
This could make a lovely holiday gift if packed in a small crock or a special addition to your holiday appetizer plans.
4 ounces crumbled goat cheese; about 1 cup
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon fresh black pepper
2 teaspoons honey
3 tablespoons apricot or fig preserves
Combine all ingredients except the preserves in a food processor. Pack into a shallow serving dish or small crock and chill. Cover thickly with apricot preserves and serve with assorted whole grain crackers or the Homemade Crackers found in Sugar & Salt: Book 1 (the Blue Book).
Makes 2 cups
Just got the wreaths today and the house is full of evergreens!
I raise a glass to all of you and your loved ones. Thank you to all of you who read, comment, and use my recipes. To all of you who sail with us and allow us to do the work we do. We are so thankful for you all!
Here’s a cocktail for your Thanksgiving table. May your day be filled with family and friends, love and laughter.
Fresh Sea Breeze
1 1/2 ounces Cold River Vodka
3 ounces fresh grapefruit juice
1 1/2 ounces cranberry syrup (see recipe below)
ice for serving
3 cranberries in syrup
1 lime wheel
Add ice to an old-fashioned glass. Pour vodka and grapefruit juice over the ice and stir. Add the cranberry syrup and let it fall to the bottom of the glass. Garnish with cranberries and lime wheel
Makes 1 cocktail
2 cups fresh cranberries
2 cups sugar
3 cups water
Bring all ingredients to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Reduce heat and simmer until the cranberries all “pop” and release their juices. Cool and store in a covered jar in the refrigerator for up to one month.
Makes 4 cups
Alternate: Shake 1/4 cup cranberries and syrup together and serve with candied grapefruit peel.