Saturday, November 6, 2010


photo via Sugar Fix

What's the best remedy for a sweet tooth craving? A sugar fix. While on an errand my friend Yoko and I were tempted by a plethora of baked delights inside the shop window of a corner bakery in Old Town Pasadena. We promised ourselves a walk-by later even if only to just satisfy our yearning hearts by pressing our noses up against the window. In the end we couldn't resist the temptation to pop inside. This turned out to be a fabulous idea as we would have otherwise missed the opportunity to sample some of their delectable sweets - scrumptious raspberry thumbprints and a slice of flaky lattice Peach Pie - yummmm...

Sugar Fix Desserts is a family affair launched this year by the Lew family. The bakery is inviting not just because of its colorful decor and tempting displays of cupcakes, fruit crustata, tea cakes, and breakfast treats but because of the gracious hospitality of the folks behind the counter. On the day we visited we had the pleasure of meeting mom & pop Lew. Pop bakes all the pies and the kids whip up the other long list of assorted pastries available on the menu. Do stop by if your burning to satisfy a sweet craving. Try their Apple Tarte Tatin - a customer favorite. Also, while your sampling their desserts don't forget to put in an order for your holiday pies.

Sugar Fix
63 South Raymond Avenue
Pasadena, CA 91105
Tel: 626-396-9402

Monday, November 1, 2010


"Only by going alone in silence, without baggage, can one truly get into the heart of wilderness. All other travel is mere dust and hotels and baggage and chatter." - John Muir in a letter to his wife Louie in July 1888

Riprap - gary snyder

Lay down these words
Before your mind like rocks.

place solid, by hands

In choice of place, set
Before the body of the mind

in space and time:

Solidity of bark, leaf, or wall

riprap of things:
Cobble of milky way, straying planets,

These poems, people,
lost ponies with

Dragging saddles--
and rocky sure-foot trails.

The worlds like an endless
Game of Go.

ants and pebbles
In the thin loam, each rock a word

a creek-washed stone
Granite: ingrained

with torment of fire and weight
Crystal and sediment linked hot

all change, in thoughts,
As well as things.

photos: j. kwon & s. winesett

Friday, October 22, 2010

Time Wasting Experiments

Time Wasting Experiment 0029, 5"x5" 2009, Letterpress

"Since January 2009 I've been tracking my wasted time. Sometimes I make letterpress prints in commemoration of this." - alyson provax

Thursday, October 21, 2010


Black Metamorphosis, Aves series by elena lyakir

"In today's world of excess, instant gratification, distractions, and the continuous movement toward some or other 'destination' I would like to take my audience to a place that is not a 'destination' or a past memory, rather an 'in-between place', the process itself and the emotions that encompass memory; a place between dream and awake, imagination and reality, past and present; a pause between intention and action, thought and speech, action and reaction." - elena lyakir

Is it pie or cake? What about something in-between... the following is a vintage recipe that possibly originated with the Pennsylvania Dutch. The pie filling uses a custard base with a bit of added flour. While baking, the pie undergoes a magical transformation as the filling separates into an upper sponge cake layer and a lower custard layer.

Lemon Sponge Pie
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter
2 heaping tablespoons flour
Pinch salt
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
2 eggs, separated
1 cup milk
1 unbaked 9" pie shell (simple pie crust recipe)
  1. Preheat oven to 375° F. Cream together sugar and butter in a large mixing bowl. Add flour, salt, lemon juice, lemon zest, egg yolks and milk. Blend until thoroughly mixed.
  2. Beat egg whites until stiff, then gently fold into the lemon mixture. Pour into unbaked pie shell and bake for 10 minutes. Reduce heat heat to 325° F and continue baking for 35-40 minutes or until the pie is set and lightly golden brown on top.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


"Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, it's about dancing in the rain." tiffany wilson

Rain always makes me think of pancakes, and what goes best with pancakes than maple syrup? I pilfered the following recipe from John Phillip Carroll's book pie pie pie.

Maple Spice Pie

Basic All-American Pie Dough for a 9-inch pie shell
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
3 to 4 tbsp ice cold water
  1. Put the flour and salt in a large bowl - large enough to hold the ingredients, with room for your hands - and stir them together with your fingers.
  2. Drop in the shortening, and then, with your fingers, break it into several pieces as you push it around the flour. Now put both hands in the bowl, right into the flour and shortening, and rub the fingers of each hand against the thumbs, lightly blending the shortening and flour together into smaller lumps and flake-shaped pieces. Your goal is to rub the shortening into the flour while keeping the mixture light-textured and dry. Work as quickly and comfortably as you can, lifting your hands often and letting the mixture fall back into the bowl. You know you've blended enough when you don't see any lumps of shortening and you have a mixture of particles the size of coarse and fine bread crumbs.
  3. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of water over the dough and stir briskly with a fork. Continue adding water, 1 tablespoon at a time, stirring after each addition and concentrating on the areas of dough that seem the driest. When the dough forms a rough, cohesive mass, reach into the bowl and press the dough together into a roundish ball. If it doesn't hold together, or if parts of it seem crumbly and dry, sprinkle on a little more water. The amount of water vary slightly from time to time, depending on your ingredients. If in doubt, it is better to add too much than not enough, because a dry dough is difficult to roll out.
  4. Have a handful of additional flour nearby in a small cup, for flouring your hands and the rolling surfaces. Rub some flour on your hands and pat the dough into a smooth disk about 1 inch thick and 3 to 4 inches across.
  5. Sprinkle your rolling surface lightly with flour, spreading the flour to cover an area about 12-inches in diameter. Put the dough in the center, and sprinkle it lightly with flour. Flatten the dough a little with your hands, then begin rolling it into a circle. Do most of the rolling from the center out to the edges of the dough, lifting and turning it slightly ever 5 or 6 rolls to help keep it round. If it sticks on the bottom, slide a long metal spatula underneath to loosen it, tossing some more flour under the dough as you lift it gently with the spatula. If the top of the dough is damp and sticky, dust it with additional flour as well. When you have a circle 11 to 12 inches across and about 2 inches larger than the top of your pie pan, you have rolled enough.
  6. To put the dough in the pie pan, roll the dough up onto the rolling pin, like a carpet. Then put the edge of the dough at the edge of the pan and unroll it, letting it drop into the pan. Slide it gently to center it. If it tears, push it back together. Pat the dough snugly into the pan, staring around the edges and easing toward the center. You should have 1/2 to 1 inch of overhang all around the pan. In places where there is more than an inch, cut it off with scissors or a sharp knife. In spots where there is less, brush the edge lightly with water and press one of the scraps of trimmed dough onto it.
  7. Fold the overhanging dough over itself and pinch it together to make a double-thick, upstanding rim all around. Pinch the rim to make a scalloped edge - called fluting or crimping. Fill the shel and bake as directed in the recipe.
1/4 cup al-purpose flour
2 tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp group cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temp
4 egg yolks
1 1/4 cups pure maple syrup
1 cup heavy (whipping) cream
  1. Preheat oven to 450° F. Roll out the dough and fit it into a 9-inch glass pie pan, then trim and flute the edges.
  2. Combine the flour, sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, and salt and sift them together, or shake them through a strainer, onto a sheet of waxed paper. Set aside.
  3. Put the butter in a large bowl, and using a big wooden spoon, beat for a moment, until it is smooth and creamy. Add the flour mixture and beat again until evenly mixed. Add the egg yolks and beat until incorporated, then whisk in the maple syrup. Add the cream and stir or whisk until blended and smooth. Pour into the prepared pie shell.
  4. Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 325° F and continue baking for 40 minutes longer, or until a knife inserted slightly off-center comes out clean. Remove the pie and set aside to cool for about 20 minutes.
  5. Serve cooled pie with whipped cream.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


desert girl by roswell angier

"Sometimes fate is like a small sandstorm that keeps changing directions. You change direction but the sandstorm chases you. You turn again, but the storm adjusts. Over and over you play this out, like some ominous dance with death just before dawn. Why? Because this storm isn't something that blew in from far away, something that has nothing to do with you. This storm is you. Something inside of you. So all you can do is give in to it, step right inside the storm, closing your eyes and plugging up your ears so the sand doesn't get in, and walk through it, step by step. There's no sun there, no moon, no direction, no sense of time. Just fine white sand swirling up into the sky like pulverized bones. That's the kind of sandstorm you need to imagine.” – Haruki Murakami (Kafka on the Shore)

Monday, October 18, 2010


photo by jeana kwon

I don't normally blog about about doughnuts but Doughnut Plant in New York City is definitely worth a shout-out. My friend Jeana who has an insatiable sweet tooth led me to this Lower East Side gem located at 379 Grand Street for her favorite fried cakes - doughnuts. In 1994, owner Mark Isreal started the Doughnut Plant in the basement of a LES tenement building with his grandfather Herman's doughnut recipe. Before opening his own storefront in 2000, he made early morning bike deliveries to various bakeries and coffee shops in the city. The bakery churns out both yeast and cake doughnuts, ranging from glazed to jelly and creamed filled to specialty doughnuts like Tres Leches and Blackout (filled with chocolate pudding). They even offer square doughnuts. On the day we made our visit Pumpkin doughnuts were on the menu, which Jeana promptly ordered along with the Tres Leches. I opted for the French Valrohona Chocolate. I'm not exaggerating when I say that all the rounds were absolutely melt-in-your-mouth scrumptious.

Sunday, October 17, 2010


I just got back from my old stomping ground - New York City. As always it was an amazing trip. In some ways it was like coming home, even though it felt like I never left. I hung out with friends, ate in some of my favorite restaurants, and explored just how much the city had changed in one short year. The Big Apple is one of those cities that is constantly evolving, yet somehow it manages to stay constant. Maybe not the same, but constant. There are always those things you can count on, and maybe take for granted, but it gives you a sense of comfort and familiarity amidst all the chaos. Faces change, businesses come and go, new buildings go up and down but the city's essence, it's energy, drive, and soul - those things never waiver, enticing us back time and again.

One Saturday afternoon I did something new. Some friends and I drove an hour outside of the city to go apple picking at the Wilkens Fruit & Fir Farm in Yorktown Heights. It was a crisp but sunny autumn day, perfect for meandering through an apple orchard munching on fresh-picked apples. There was a sumptuous selection of Golden and Red Delicious, Jonagold, Crispin, Empire, and Winesap. Believe me, nothing tastes better than an apple you hand picked yourself from a tree. After we had our half bushel of apples, we stopped in Tricia's Treats Bake Shop and oohed and awed over all the delectable baked goods before purchasing our own raspberry and apple pie to take home. It was a satisfyingly yummy day.

Over the next week I baked two apple tarts with the fresh apples we'd picked from the farm. I used a simple recipe from smitten kitchen, a classic apple tart from Alice Waters which was a 20 year-old recipe she nipped from Jacques Pepin during his days at Chez Panisse. You only need the minimum of ingredients - flour, sugar, butter, and apples. You can't get purer than that. The results were mouth watering, flaky and not too sweet. In a word - perfect. One of the great things about this recipe is that you don't need a bunch of fancy equipment or baking utensils. For my pate brisee crust, instead of an electric mixer I used two knives to "cut" in the butter. Instead of a tart pan, I went free form galette-style for a more "rustic" crust. It may have lacked the perfection of a bakery made tart, but it more than made up for it with its "home-made" deliciousness.

Alice Waters's Apple Tart
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp sugar
1/8 tsp salt
6 tbsp (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, just softened, cut in 1/2-inch pieces
3 1/2 tbsp chilled water

2 pounds apples (Golden Delicious or another tart, firm variety), peeled, cored (save peels and cores), and sliced
2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
5 tbsp sugar

1/2 cup sugar

MIX flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl; add 2 tablespoons of the butter. Blend in a mixer until dough resembles coarse cornmeal. Add remaining butter; mix until biggest pieces look like large peas.

DRIBBLE in water, stir, then dribble in more, until dough just holds together. Toss with hands, letting it fall through fingers, until it’s ropy with some dry patches. If dry patches predominate, add another tablespoon water. Keep tossing until you can roll dough into a ball.

Flatten into a 4-inch-thick disk; refrigerate. After at least 30 minutes, remove; let soften so it’s malleable but still cold. Smooth cracks at edges. On a lightly floured surface, roll into a 14-inch circle about 1/8 inch thick. Dust excess flour from both sides with a dry pastry brush.

PLACE dough in a lightly greased 9-inch round tart pan, or simply on a parchment-lined baking sheet if you wish to go free-form, or galette-style with it. Heat oven to 400°F. (If you have a pizza stone, place it in the center of the rack.)

OVERLAP apples on dough in a ring 2 inches from edge if going galette-style, or up to the sides if using the tart pan. Continue inward until you reach the center. Fold any dough hanging over pan back onto itself; crimp edges at 1-inch intervals.

BRUSH melted butter over apples and onto dough edge. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons sugar over dough edge and the other 3 tablespoons over apples. (I don't like overly sweet desserts so I only use about 3 tablespoons of sugar total.)

BAKE in center of oven until apples are soft, with browned edges, and crust has caramelized to a dark golden brown (about 45 minutes), making sure to rotate tart every 15 minutes.

MAKE glaze: Put reserved peels and cores in a large saucepan, along with sugar. Pour in just enough water to cover; simmer for 25 minutes. Strain syrup through cheesecloth.

REMOVE tart from oven, and slide off parchment onto cooling rack. Let cool at least 15 minutes.

BRUSH glaze over tart, slice, and serve.

Monday, September 27, 2010


"You can kill a lifetime without feeling anything but skin."
- chuck palahniuk

Apathy. Skin pulled taut over skin, stretched and leathered by time. Resembling little but eggshells glossed into a hard veneer to preserve our own yolk. Brittle and flaky as any empty promise.

A thick polluted smog of apathy hovers over Tinseltown silently choking the life out of star chasers, fame seekers, and bottom feeders. Two-bit schemes laid to waste on a boulevard of broken dreams. The haze of disillusion a mirror you can't escape, reflecting back all the hollow ambitions that wilted in the burning sun. Days turn into weeks, then months to years, and all the while sitting idle, waiting and craving that golden ticket. Starry-eyed hustlers counting degrees of separation on puckered fingers, the indelible mark of dissoluteness on the skin the only sign they ever existed.

Cocooned from our own wasted failures, we spin and thrive within our own silk casings, trapped in a web of self-deceit, burrowing deeper into indifference, hoping time will metamorphose us into something else, someone else. But can a ghost ever become a butterfly?

Sunday, August 15, 2010


For the last five summers friends of mine have hosted an annual barbeque, each one uniquely themed to pay tribute to a particular style of cuisine. Last year it was Jamaican Me Hungry, the year before Dirty South, and well, you see where I'm going with this...
This year it was Viva La Pig! An ode to the whole roasted pig, Cuban-style, thanks to "La Caja China", or Chinese box, a must-have cooking device for roasting a whole hog. The unusual contraption designed by a Cuban-American father and son team in Miami is basically a metal-lined wooden cooker on wheels covered by a tray of hot charcoal. It somewhat resembles a wheelbarrow. The process took up to four or more hours but the results were divine - tender, succulent, and unbelievably delicious. Thanks to the boys for another fantastic feast!

Pastel Tres Leches, or "Three milk cake" is a light airy sponge cake soaked in three kinds of milk: evaporated milk, condensed milk, and heavy cream. Although not Cuban in origin, this 'to die for' dessert is popular in many parts of Central America and Mexico. Although my offering wasn't home-made like so many of the other dishes at the BBQ, it was appreciated and quickly devoured by all. I purchased my pastel tres leches from Gigi's Bakery & Cafe located on Temple Street near downtown Los Angeles. Here's a simple recipe.

Tres Leches Cake
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
5 whole eggs
1 cup sugar, divided
1 tsp vanilla
1/3 cups milk
1 can evaporated milk
1 can sweetened, condensed milk
1/4 cups heavy cream

For the icing:
1 pint heavy cream, for whipping
3 tbsp sugar
  1. Preheat oven to 350º F. Spray a 9x13 inch pan liberally until coated.
  2. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Separate eggs.
  3. Beat egg yolks with 3/4 cup sugar on high speed until yolks are pale yellow. Stir in milk and vanilla. Pour egg yolk mixture over the flour mixture and stir very gently until combined.
  4. Beat egg whites on high speed until soft peaks form. With the mixer on, pour in remaining 1/4 cup of sugar and beat until egg whites are stiff but not dry.
  5. Fold egg white mixture into the batter very gently until just combined. Pour into prepared pan and spread to even out the surface.
  6. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Turn cake out onto a rimmed platter and allow to cool.
  7. Combine condensed milk, evaporated milk, and heavy cream in a small pitcher. When cake is cool, pierce the surface with a fork several times. Slowly drizzle all but about 1 cup of the milk mixture - try to get as much around the edges of the cake as you can.
  8. Allow the cake to absorb the milk mixture for 30 minutes. To ice the cake,whip 1 pint of heavy cream with 3 tablespoons of sugar until thick and spreadable. Spread over the surface of the cake. Decorate cake with whole or chopped maraschino cherries. Cut into squares and serve.

Sunday, May 30, 2010


For me it wouldn't be Memorial Day weekend without grilling out. For most Americans this is the official kick-off of Barbeque season. So get ready to warm up the coals, pull out the cooler, and create a summer spread of grilled meats, summer salads, side dishes, and of course pie!

You'll love the simplicity of this old-fashioned strawberry pie. With its delicious summery taste, this fruit pie is perfect for any occasion. Strawberries derived their name from an old-age custom of putting straw beneath the berries when they began to ripen, which helps to keep them moist and clean for picking.

Old-fashioned Strawberry Pie
1 recipe pastry for a 9-inch single crust pie
3/4 cup white sugar
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons butter
1 pinch ground nutmeg
4 cups fresh strawberries, hulled
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon cornstarch
  1. Preheat oven to 400° F. Place a drip pan on lowest shelf to catch pie juices.
  2. To make Topping: in a medium bowl, mix until fluffy the 3/4 cup sugar, 3/4 cup flour, butter, and nutmeg.
  3. Place cleaned strawberries in a deep bowl. In a separate bowl, mix together the 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup flour, and cornstarch. Gently coat berries with this mixture; be careful not to crush berries.
  4. Pour berries into prepared pie crust mounding them in the middle; mounding is necessary as the berries will sink as they bake. Cover berries with crumb topping and top crumbs with about 15 pea-sized blobs of butter. Wrap edges of pie crust with foil to prevent burning.
  5. Bake pie in preheated oven for 20 minutes, then reduce heat to 375° F and bake for an additional 40 minutes. When there are 10 minutes left of baking, sprinkle a little extra sugar over crumb topping and then finish baking.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


jeana and ianthe at Playa Hermosa

I'd always wanted to take up surfing. Even as a kid I remember flipping through surf magazines, amazed by all the incredible photos - sheer poetry in motion. Years ago, after reading a travel article I added 'surf lessons in Costa Rica' to my Sweet List. Recently I got a chance to make that dream come true with my friends Jeana and Ianthe when we signed up for surf lessons at the Green Iguana Surf Camp in Dominical, one of Costa Rica's few classic surfing towns on the Central Pacific coast.

Playa Dominical

Unlike most of the northern towns along the narrow coastal strip of the Central Pacific, Dominical is relatively undeveloped, and therefore a hidden gem. Until recently, roads south of Jaco were mainly interconnecting potholes of dirt and gravel making it an excruciating three and half hour drive from San Jose Airport. The bumpy ride was not for the feint-hearted, which made Dominical a destination mainly for surfers and backpackers. Surrounded by rain forests, the town sits on the Pacific ocean bordered to the north by the Río Barú, and to the east by the jungle-swathed mountains of the Cordillera de Tamalmanca that jut up from the coastline and frame long stretches of palm-fringed beach. Playa Dominical is known as the most consistent surf spot in Costa Rica, and is visited by surfers the world over. Its two-mile stretch of beach virtually disappears from view once you get offshore to catch a wave. It is also known as a powerful break; there may be bigger waves elsewhere, but Dominical's big, mid-tide waves hammer you hard. Rip tides can be ferocious, and swimming a risky activity. For this reason lifeguards are on duty all day. But whether you're out with your surfboard, or just lounging on the beach beneath lush green vegetation, there's something for everyone here.

Los cocodrilos

Half way to Dominical, our driver Johnee stopped to show us cocodrilos. With our limited Spanish we had no clue what he was referring to, but from his hand gestures we mistakenly guessed giant eels. Instead, he walked us over the busy bridge and pointed out dozens of crocodiles lazing under its concrete structure. Apparently the locals had started feeding them to attract tourists, and now these huge reptiles used the area as their regular feeding grounds. Even still they looked quietly ferocious. I'm not sure if I misunderstood Johnee but I could have sworn he said the crocs had snatched a couple of humans. By the time we pulled into Hotel Diuwak, it was dark and we were all grimy, hungry and exhausted. The air in Costa Rica is hot, thick and moist and it takes a few days to acclimate. Although our friend Jeana seems to thrive in this sort of weather, Ianthe and I are both more accustomed to the hot, dry climate of Los Angeles. We'd initially ordered a non-air conditioned room but within moments of unpacking we requested the remote for the air-conditioner. Afterwards, we blindly found our way in the dark, skipping over mud and puddles to Tortilla Flats where we had our first Costa Rican meal. It's the only beachfront bar and restaurant in Dominical making it a popular hangout for both locals and tourists. On the menu is a mix of American and local cuisine, or comida tipica. Black beans and rice (gallo pinto) is the backbone of Costa Rican cuisine and is served with the casado, or "marraige" of basics that also includes meat or fish, fried plantains, and a carrot, tomato, and cabbage salad. We tried many of the local dishes during our trip, but nothing quite hits the spot like Nachos and cold beers. The two most popular brands of cervezas are Imperial and Pilsen. After devouring our meal, we went back to the hotel. Our two friends Jimmy and Rene, who flew in an hour after us were M.I.A. and we had no way to contact them. They'd opted to rent a car and drive themselves to Dominical since they were only staying for the weekend. We feared they'd gotten lost as the roads don't seem clearly marked. They finally knocked on our door sometime after midnight with tales of a harrowing drive playing Frogger, near misses with cows, monsters, and other unidentifiable creatures.

soda in Dominical

vendors along Dominical's beachfront

fruit stand in Dominical

The next morning I was up early to explore the town, which took all of 15 minutes. My first agenda was coffee, and I settled in at Cáfe Delicias on the opposite side of town. I ordered a cup of latte soya, and sat down to redraft my book except the humidity caused the paper to become damp and curl around the edges so I finally gave up, and just allowed myself to enjoy the moment. When I got back to the hotel everyone was having breakfast at Tu-Lú, the hotel open air restaurant. The morning was already hot and humid, and we were all eager to hit the beach. We'd discovered earlier to our disappointment that like most of the property, the pool was also under renovation. So we packed up our belongings and headed to Playa Dominical, a 3 minute walk from our hotel, and found a shady spot under some mangrove trees. The water was warm but surprisingly refreshing. Rene thought ahead to bring beer, and we sipped from our warm cans of Pilsen while enjoying the sights and sounds of the ocean.

Playa Dominical

ianthe and jeana at Playa Dominical

It wasn't long before Jeana, Ianthe, and I had to rush back to the hotel for our first scheduled surf lesson. Earlier the skies had broken open, and we'd been caught in a downpour. We weren't sure if they'd go ahead with the lesson but in typical Tico fashion it was business as usual. After all, it rained every day in the rainy season, and we'd come at the cusp of it. Surfing in the rain turned out to be one of the most amazing experiences of our lives. And we were lucky to have Jimmy and Rene with their waterproof camera record the session for us. Our instructor was a local Tico named Ramon, and after helping us choose our long boards, he loaded us up in the van and drove us to Playa Dominical. He taught us the basics of surfing, which included 'what to do' scenarios in case we got tangled up in a rip tide. Before we hit the water, we practiced on the beach jumping up onto our boards until he felt we'd gotten the gist of it. Long boards are awkward to carry unless you have long ape arms to tuck them under your arm pits. And we each struggled to carry ours into the water. Once in, the waves pushed us back with the force of a two ton truck. That in itself exhausted us before we ever even caught a wave. It took us several tries but we all managed to get up at least once. And the feeling was nothing short of exhilarating. Each time Ramon shoved us off, I could hear him yell, "Get up! Get up!", and you really had to put thinking aside, and rely on sheer instincts to get up and catch a wave. After nearly two hours, we were all exhausted. By the end of it, we'd been pounded by both waves and boards, and were feeling battered and bruised. Food and beers were the all-remedy, and we ended up back at Tortilla Flats. It was crowded, everyone having sought cover from the rain. We must have sat there for hours just enjoying the sight of the rain. All the bars and restaurants in Costa Rica seemed to be open air ones, with only a roof to keep you covered from the relentless rain. The good thing is that it keeps the air circulating so you can keep relatively cool.

riptide warnings at Playa Dominical

lifeguards at Playa Dominical

Playa Dominical

That night we had dinner at Coconut Spice Restaurant, which specialized in Thai dishes. It sat back from the main road with a view of the Río Barú. Like most of the eating establishments in town it too was an open air restaurant so we took turns repeatedly spraying ourselves down with mosquito repellent. The food was filling if not necessarily awe inspiring but it was a nice break from the typical food found in town.

rene zip lining at Hacienda Burú

The next day we'd arranged to go zip lining, so we rescheduled our next surf lesson for another day. We drove to Hacienda Barú National Wildlife Refuge & Lodge. Its 815 acres boasts a variety of Habitats, from wetlands and secondary rainforest in the lowlands to primary rainforest on the highland coastal ridge. There are seven kilometers of walking trails and three kilometers of pristine beaches to be explored, as well as an orchid and butterfly garden. According to their website, the rainforest Zipline Tour imitates the flight of the chestnut-mandibled toucan as it leaps off a branch down through the forest and then up in to another tree. The tour included 8 separate cable rides that took you from one ridge top to another, across valleys and streams. There were 14 land based platforms and 1 tree platform with a view of the coast. Our two guides Carlos and Pedro were both entertaining and knowledgeable about the local fauna and flora. Right off the bat, we saw an anteater. After putting on our zip lining gear, we started off on the trail. Pedro went ahead to locate animals for us with his telescope, and along the way we stopped to view a sleeping sloth high in the trees. Our group also tasted termites, which everyone claimed tasted nutty like sesame seeds. I took their word for it. Carlos also demonstrated on Jimmy how indigenous tribes used the pincers of soldier leaf cutter ants as 'stitches' for wounds. The ant is positioned with its pincer on either side of a wound, then it bites. Once it does, it doesn't let go, so you simply twist the body off the pincers - instant sutures. Jeana even volunteered to have a gecko latch onto one of her ears, instant earring. At the first zip line platform, there was a storage shed. As soon as Carlos opened it, we saw giant cockroaches and small bats scrambling to get away from the light. As we prepared for our first cable ride, I heard Pedro cursing as a scorpion climbed out of his glove. To my guides' amusement, I immediately removed and shook my own gloves to empty them of any uninvited guests. Our first ride was both an adrenalin rush and scary as hell. But Pedro was always at the other end to catch us. Once you gain momentum, you fly through the air and sometimes I wasn't sure if he'd be able to stop me before I hit a tree head on. I'm convinced he waited till the last moment, just to watch me go into a tizzy.

Cerveza Imperial

Our adventure lasted about 2 hours and afterwards we stopped for lunch at a soda to gear up for our next destination, Manuel Antonio National Park. The highways, streets and markets of Costa Rica are filled with sodas, or small restaurants that serve light meals and snacks. At Rest. Club Roncador they were grilling up pork on a giant barbeque. Most of us ordered a casado with that fresh grilled pork, and it was delicious. Ianthe ordered arroz de mariscos, or seafood rice that included everything from fish, clams, shrimp, octopus, to crab legs. After filling our bellies, and cooling off with beer we were all a bit comatose from not only the good food, but the heat. We all longingly eyed the shaded couches and hammock. Soon we were off again.

One of the country's smallest national park, Manuel Antonio National Park is also one of the most stunning with a diversity of wildlife. It contains a combination of mangrove swamps, rain forest, beaches, and coral reefs. The beaches are lined with lush forest, which is home to sloths, iguanas, squirrel monkeys, and colorful crabs. There are several trails that meander through the park, including the main one that leads to Cathedral Point, which was once an island but is now connected to the coast by a thin strip of island. This land bridge forms a spine separating the parks two most popular beaches, Playa Espadilla Sur and Playa Manuel Antonio. We took a trail that led to a small but beautiful waterfall with a crystal clear pool. The trail was tricky at times as we had to cross over a couple of creeks to get there. Jimmy took the opportunity to cool off under the sprays, while the rest of us watched on safer ground. When we got back on the main trail, we saw a couple of deer eating. Other than giving us a cursory glance, they pretty much ignored us. We also sighted a few howler monkeys high above in the trees, but the real treat were the squirrel monkeys, known locally as mono titi, playing in the mangrove trees at Playa Manuel Antonio. We hung out for awhile to relax, swim, and take photographs. In the busy touristy town, we took a short stroll and stopped for ice cream.

Jimmy and Rene left early the next morning to catch their flight back to New York and we were sad to see them go. After hitting the beach in the morning, the three of us geared up for our second surfing lesson. Our instructor was a character named Bob, who was originally from Southern California but had made Dominical his home for years. Bob was in his early 50's but an old surf pro, and what he didn't know about surfing wasn't much. After we met the rest of the folks in our group and picked out our long boards, he drove us 15 minutes south to Playa Hermosa. For the first 20 minutes or so he taught us how to "hop, pop, and lock". His surfing techniques were a little different from Ramon's and I kept getting stuck between their two different instructions. My motto has always been "less thinking, more doing" but I was having a tough time getting out of my own head. Ianthe told me she could see me out there thinking way too hard. Needless to say, I didn't get up that day or for the next three lessons. It was real frustrating, but what I lacked in skill I made up in determination. I don't give up easily, so I kept going out fighting the pounding breaks to try again. Bob kept repeating, "What's rule number one? Catch the wave. What's rule number two? Catch the wave." Another thing he taught us was about resistance. The trick to surfing is to spend the least amount of energy by finding the path of least resistance. This applies to everything from paddling out past the breaks, to popping up on your board, and catching the best waves. Easier said in theory, than in practice. But I have to say that both our instructors had an infinite amount of patience. You could tell they really wanted us to catch that wave, almost as much as we wanted to. But the great thing about surfing is that if you miss one wave, there's always another chance. Each wave is different from the last, which also means each ride is unique in itself. The thrill however remains constant.

After cleaning up from our lesson we all met up for a late lunch. We found a cute little place named Crispus with a beautiful view of the river. Their specialty was crepes but we opted for salads. I had a delicious Greek salad, while the girls had Caesar. Later for dinner, we hit San Clemente Bar & Grill. Of course it'd started raining again, and by the time we arrived we were soaked through. After we'd eaten we took turns playing darts, and ping pong. Then it was early to bed for another day.

jeana on the main street of Dominical

One of the short jaunts the surf school arranged for us was to a reptile refuge. There we found all sorts of local snakes, turtles, and iguanas. Another was inter tubing down the Río Barú, which we skipped in lieu of spending time with Jimmy and Rene. Some of the others we spoke to said they enjoyed it, minus the sunburns and mosquito bites.

After our fourth surfing lesson, Bob stopped at a roadside bar so we could cool off with a couple of beers. And later that night we went back for karaoke night. Jimi and Veronica from Canada had a rental car, so the six of us piled in for the short distance. Bob met us there where he entertained us with his karaoke skills. Even Ianthe serenaded us with a Bonnie Tyler classic, followed by Jeana and her rendition of YMCA.

chad, ramon, jimi, ianthe, and jeana

ianthe and chad at waterfall

The next day after our surf lesson Ramon took us to a small waterfall. We weren't the only visitors, as there were three young local boys there swinging and doing flips off a tarzan rope into the water pool. They entertained us for quite awhile with their dare devil tricks. We were all too chicken-hearted to give it go but the dip in the pool was refreshing after the salty ocean. Definitely one of the highlights of the trip for me.

chad post-surfing

For our last surf lesson, Bob piled us in the van for the 40 minute drive to a private beach called Playa Ventanas (windows beach). The beach gets its name from the sea caves that line the north and south ends of the beach. The two caves on the north end extend from the beach out to the ocean, and during certain tides creates a sort of "blowhole" effect. Pressure from each wave blows a large cloud of steam out onto the beach. This day was by far my best surf day, as I managed to catch and ride several waves. In fact, everyone did extremely well even though towards the end of the day it was near impossible to get past the breaks. That very night, the three of us drove out of Dominical in our rental car and headed north to La Fortuna to visit Volcano Arenal. Leaving was bittersweet, but we all vowed to return to our quaint little surfing town. On our way out, we stopped at Rest. Club Roncador again for dinner. We all agreed that it was by far our best meal in Costa Rica. As well as arroz de mariscos, we ordered sopa de mariscos, a delicious seafood soup with pieces of filleted fish, clams, shrimp, squid, and crab claws, served with a side of rice.

Hotel Montaña de Fuego and Volcán Arenal

The drive to La Fortuna took about 5-6 hours, and we arrived sometime after midnight. Along the way we'd been barraged by rain, as we navigated somewhat treacherous, dark and windy roads. We crossed over dozens of single lane bridges, stuttered over unexpected speed bumps, and clumsily passed blind behind slow moving vehicles. Needless to say, we were exhausted by the time we checked in. Hotel Montaña de Fuego is located outside of town at the foothills of Volcano Arenal. Our room was a wooden cabin-like structure with a small porch that looked directly out towards the cone-shaped volcano. It was pretty amazing to wake up to that view, and see a cloud of smoke billowing from its peak. After breakfast we drove out to Parque Nacional Volcán Arenal for a hike. We opted to forgo a guide as the trails were clearly marked. The park is located on Arenal's west side, and its lava is now erupting towards the West and Southwest. The short trails pass through secondary forests and old lava fields from previous large eruptions. I was constantly amazed at the plant life we came across, some practically looked prehistoric. There were amazing colorful flowers, butterflies, dragonflies, as well as strange creepy crawly insects. We even came across an all-white albino cockroach. But the most amazing find was the Horned Viper snake another trail goer pointed out to us. We'd seen this very same poisonous snake at the reptile farm in Dominical, only this was living uncaged in its natural habitat. At the old lava fields, I saw a bright yellow beaked toucan flying above - the first we'd seen since arriving in Costa Rica. Another highlight was a gargantuan tree in the middle of the forest. All the while we were hiking we kept hearing strange rumblings but it wasn't until the trail opened up to a clearing that we realized it was the volcano erupting. We even managed to see lava rocks tumbling down the sides of the volcano. No fire red lava though.

Afterwards we went to Arenal Observatory Lodge which is perched high on a ridge 1.7 miles from the active crater of Volcán Arenal. The original buildings were erected in the 1970's to house scientists and researchers who came to study the active volcano. Now the lodge offers over 40 rooms to tourists. We stopped for a snack at the lodge restaurant only to be disappointed by its mediocre 'continental' cuisine and fat prices. We ended up munching on fries, and sipping on cool drinks. The property had an interesting 'hanging bridge' held up by cables that led to another section of the lodge that also housed its tiny museum and observatory. It was definitely worth a look for the different perspective of the volcano.

That night we relaxed at the hotel's hot tub and pool. A great way to wind down after a great trip. The next morning we checked out at 4:30 am for the three and half hour drive to San Jose Airport - back where we started from 10 days before. We got a chance to see most of the scenery we'd missed during our night drive, and the countryside was nothing short of amazing. I definitely look forward to returning, and can highly recommend Costa Rica as a vacation destination whether you're surfing, hiking the national parks, or just relaxing at the beach. Thanks girls for a lovely adventure.

palm trees in Dominical