Thursday, September 24, 2009

the call that never happened

i used to be painfully shy. like in 5th grade, i was afraid to raise my hand in class - that kind of shy. but i quickly developed into a talkative and confident 6th grader, when i got cast in in the school play. and you couldn't shut me up when i was the president in high school.

now, i wouldn't consider myself shy at all. soft spoken - sometimes, but shy - no.

so i was kind of surprised when i realized that a part of me really is still shy, at least in some situations...

i had already planned to bake the gateau therese from david lebovitz's hilarious new book, when i found out he was going to be interviewed on by adam roberts on the same morning. the interview was streaming live online, and callers could ask questions. let me be clear: david lebovitz was one phone call away, at the exact moment that i was baking this cake.

i quickly tried to think of a question. the first thing that came to mind was "did you forget the vanilla in this recipe?" what a horrible question!!! i didn't want to insult the author before i even tried his recipe. adam kept asking for people to call in and ask david questions. ok come on, christina. think of a good question. um... "i only have an 8.5 inch glass pan and a 9.5 inch metal pan. Your recipe calls for a 9 inch loaf pan. Which one should I use?" yawn, booooooring. i want to ask him a question that makes him think and smile at the same time. come on, christina!

as i listened to the interview, my internal battle intensified. at one point, i even picked up the phone and dialed a couple numbers. then suddenly, the interview was over. i slipped the cake in the oven and plopped down on the couch, dejected. did i really let this opportunity slip out of my fingers? the timer beeped before i could get too depressed, and what emerged from the oven actually made me smile: a soft, dark, fudgy, intense, bittersweet rectangle of goodness.

later, i wrote a bland review of the book and recipe, but i never posted it.

so why am i telling you about the call that never happened right now? because david lebovitz is coming to the bay area! and i am not going to miss out on another opportunity.

i'm going to meet him, and tell my little story. then we'll laugh and eat dark chocolate.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

costa rica: desayuno

i was in costa rica for month this summer. i spent time exploring crowded city streets and laying out on beautiful beaches. wherever i went, i made sure to taste every weird looking fruit i could find. and i talked about food with anyone that would answer my questions: chefs, home cooks, taxi drivers and kids. because of this persistent (annoying?) curiosity, i was able to learn quite a bit about costa rican cuisine.

most people eat desayuno (breakfast), but it's not the most important meal in costa rica. this is one of my first meals in the country: gallo pinto (rice and beans), scrambled eggs, cheese, bread and coffee. so why is my coffee so light? i'm not really a coffee drinker - it's too bitter for me. so instead of cafe con leche, i drank leche con cafe: 50% coffee, 50% milk and buckets of sugar. i know, i know...
i stayed with friends for most of the month, but we drove to the coast and stayed at the doubletree in puntarenas for a couple days too. it was my first time staying in an all-inclusive resort hotel, so i tried to pace myself in the buffet lines. this is what i are for breakfast one day: freshly made corn tortilla filled with black beans and cheese, a big plate of fruit and juice. the green and white fruit (on top of the pineapple) is guanabana (sweet and floral) and the juice is made from cas (tart citrus).

this jam was soooooo good. at first, i thought it was blueberry. that's what the picture looks like anyway. it's a german company so the label says it's johannisberre. in spanish it's grosella negra. i didn't know exactly what fruit my favorite jam was made from, but i didn't really care!

the sweet, dark, gooey spread has the softest whisper of tartness. here i'm eating it on a piece of toasted baguette with salty white cheese. salty-sweet goodness!

i usually have a sweet tooth, but this day, i didn't want any jam. my taste buds were craving savory gallo pinto, salty bread and cheese and bitter coffee. queso fresco is a soft, fresh cheese that costa ricans eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner and in between.

look at all that food - i must have been hungry! the bananas were so much more flavorful than the ones that are shipped to california. the flavor was floral, and the flesh soft under my teeth.

my sweet tooth returned, and so did my favorite jam. i made sure to pack a couple jars in my suitcase, and i found it online in case i run out. who knew black current jam was so lovely?

minimalist breakfast. cafe y pan. simple, yet satisfying.

i'm sure you probably guessed that gallo pinto is the national dish of costa rica. it's substantial, but not too heavy, and simple enough to put together using leftovers from yesterday's lunch.
gallo pinto

1 tablespoon oil
1/4 cup red bell pepper, chopped
1/4 cup onion, chopped
garlic powder (to taste)
2 cups cooked black beans
2 cups cooked white rice
2 tablespoons cilantro, finely chopped

heat oil in a skillet. cook vegetables until they begin to soften. add beans, stir gently and simmer for 2 minutes. add rice, stir gently and simmer 3 minutes.