31 October 2010

paging ma ingalls

By now, you've most likely heard about my love for baked goods, especially cupcakes. A while back, I found a recipe for strawberry lemonade cupcakes that looked amazing, and decided to try them out for my friend EG's birthday. I was so excited to bake them, along with some lemon bars for the school bake sale, the night before the party. I had even made a special trip to the fancy imports grocery store the weekend before to make sure I had all of the right ingredients. Re-learning how to bake things here has been interesting, because ingredients and appliances don't work quite the way I'm used to, and this experience was no exception.

As usual, I began to preheat the oven. It's a little tricky...can you see why?

Right, there are no temperature markings on the dial! In addition, the gas valve is a bit finicky, and sometimes allows too much gas to shoot out, catching the match flame in a huge gush of fire and burning my hand and/or arm. But my friend showed me a trick for how to hold the match while lighting the oven, so it's a lot easier now. Once the oven business was taken care of, I began gathering the ingredients and realized I didn't have enough eggs. My neighbor's chicken is my usual egg hook-up, but she was having none of it that day (the chicken, not the neighbor), so another neighbor offered to run to the general store down the street to pick up some more for me, as my oven was already turned on. (So nice, right?!)

When my neighbor returned with the eggs, I finished mixing up the cupcakes and the lemon bars and put them in the oven to cook. Every now and then, I would check on them to see if they were finished. It usually takes about twice as long for things to cook as is called for in recipes, but I like to keep a close watch just in case. But after a while, I started to realize that these things were taking waaaaay longer than usual. As in, two hours after I put them in, they still were gelatinous. Something wasn't right, and I suddenly realized that although I was holding the pan with my bare hand, I wasn't feeling any pain, because the oven wasn't hot anymore. I checked the gas tank, and sure enough, it had run out of gas!

What to do? At that point, I started channeling my inner Ma Ingalls. If you and I have ever had a conversation, you've probably heard about my love for the Little House series (the books, not the show...I found the show too inauthentic, but that's a whole different topic). I'm sure that when Ma was traveling across the prairie, she had many more challenging cooking issues than the one I was facing, yet somehow she made it work:

No solutions were coming to mind, however, so I just I wrapped up the pans, put them in the fridge, and decided to sleep on the issue. Worst case, I wouldn't be able to contribute anything to the bake sale, and I would stop and buy a cake for EG's birthday.

Sometime during the night, I remembered in my dreams that my school has a cooking classroom! Score! I got up a little early to wrap up my goods even more securely so they could withstand the hitchhiking journey to school. We made it to school with only a few spills, and I raced to the cooking classroom so I could take care of business before school started.

The school oven is a little wonky, but miraculously, the cupcakes and lemon bars turned out o.k., even after all they had been through. By o.k., I mean the cupcakes were fallen in the middle and the lemon bars were completely charred on top, but who's counting? I scraped off the burned part from the lemon bars and asked MO, the music teacher, if it was tacky for me to offer such patched-up goods at the bake sale. She responded, "Tacky? Tacky? Nooooo...I wouldn't even scrape off the burned part!" before dumping another thick layer of powdered sugar on top of them. That's why I love you, MO!

Here's a shot of the finished product. Tell me the truth, now...would you buy one?

Believe it or not, the lemon bars sold out pretty quickly, and I began to think about how I could salvage the semi-collapsed cupcakes. It didn't take me too long to figure out the perfect solution: frosting! Obviously, I was going to frost them anyway, so I just decided to frost them a little more thickly than usual to hide the sunken centers. I dashed home at the end of the day to whip up the frosting and get the cupcakes looking presentable before the party. During a minor earthquake, the bowl I was using for the frosting got a small hole in it, causing frosting to leak out, but other than that, the rest of the baking experience was uneventful. And while the cupcakes didn't look all that great, they were super tasty, if I do say so myself.

Phew! There was only one thing left to do...
...yup, grab our fiddles and don our calico and petticoats to ring in EG's 29th year of life, Little House-style.

Images found here and here.

24 October 2010

unexpected photo shoot

The other day, the other new teachers and I had to go to the local police station to get fingerprinted to begin the process of obtaining our residency in Costa Rica. We each got a substitute for the morning, but my friend who was covering my class warned me that it would probably take all day. If you've heard or read about my experience getting fingerprinted for my work visa documents, you can understand why I was a little nervous about going on this journey. Luckily, a package from my mom had just arrived, so I had some magazines to take with me to stay entertained during the anticipated lengthy wait.

To begin this residency paperwork, we had to bring along several official documents and six passport-sized photos of ourselves. Luckily, everyone had remembered all of their documents, and the technology teacher had taken and printed our photos, so we were on our way. Upon our arrival at the station, we were ushered into some tiny offices, where we were fingerprinted and interviewed about our family history, our purpose for living here, any distinguishing scars or tattoos, etc. Everything was going pretty smoothly, until the woman conducting my friend EA's interview rejected EA's paperwork because her photos were printed on the wrong kind of paper. Mind you, everyone else's photos were accepted, and they were all on the same type of paper as EA's. It took us quite a while to figure out exactly what the issue was, but we finally realized that EA would need to get her photos re-taken in order for her paperwork to be accepted.

When we left the station, the other members of our group were nowhere to be found, so we left the secured area to find a place where EA could get her picture taken and printed on the correct paper. (We later learned that they had gone off to get some food without us. ?!?!) So anyway, as we were walking on the street, we heard a shrill whistle behind us, and turned around to see what was going on. A man was standing about 50 yards away, waving in our direction, but since we didn't recognize him, we turned and kept walking in the other direction. After hearing another whistle, we thought that maybe he was trying to get our attention. As it turned out, he was in fact trying to get us to go over to his little street-side photo shop. We walked over to find out what was what, and he showed us where EA could follow him down a little alley and stand against a white wall to pose for her picture. It was all very strange, and we're still not sure how he knew that EA needed a new set of photos...

At that point, FG, the man who drove us from school to the station, strolled over to see what was going on. I explained (probably in very poor Spanish) what was going down and why EA was following a stranger down an alley instead of getting fingerprinted. FG checked out the guy and gave his approval for the photo op. During the photo shoot, I realized that the white wall that EA was standing in front of was actually the outside of a beautiful church, so I took the opportunity to check it out. By the time our new friend had finished developing EA's photos in his little bucket o'toxins, our other co-workers had meandered back from their meal, and we all escorted her back to finish her interview. Amazingly, even with that delay, we still got back a little ahead of schedule.

A few days later, I got a letter from "the lawyer" (still not sure who this person is), saying that my residency paperwork was on hold due to my photos being printed on the wrong kind of paper. Luckily, I had received my school pictures the day before, so I just sent him some of those. They're more cloudypastel-ish than they are official passport-like (think Glamour Shots by Deb, a la Napolean Dynamite), so I'm keeping my fingers that they will work!

12 October 2010

there are no words

One thing that always makes me smile is seeing signs with slightly-off translations. They're not very common, as people in Costa Rica tend to speak English very well. But occasionally, you'll see something like this:

...and you just have to laugh.

Another thing I love is the random overstock goods from the U.S. that you can buy here (very cheaply, I might add).

Exhibit A:
It's a little hard to tell in this picture, but if you look closely, you can see that these are Kool-Aid sneakers, featuring everyone's favorite, amorphous snack time mascot. Love!!!

Exhibit B:
Two-toned laces? Soles that leave smiling footprints in the dirt? What could be better?

Oh, the memories...of sunny days from childhood and that crazy commercial in which Kool-Aid Man burst through brick walls.

Isn't it funny what can make you nostalgic?

Images via Flickr and Google Image Search.

09 October 2010

in search of ruby slippers

My gal EA and I hit the mall yesterday afternoon, hoping to find a pair of these...

...complete with take-me-anywhere-with-only-three-heel-clicks powers.

And wouldn't you know, the only ruby slippers we could find were in gigantic pinata form. I love it here, but in light of the week we just wrapped up and some upcoming changes, it would be nice to have the ability to take a break from it all and pop home for a weekend here and there.


If nothing else, the past week has shown me what an awesome group of people I work with, and I lovelovelove my class. So for now, I'll just keep clicking my less-than-sparkly teacher heels and trust that while they may not be able to magically transport me to another country, I can still count on them to get me to school on time.

Besides, ruby slippers may be great for following yellow brick roads and all, but my teacher shoes are better for dancing.

Image via.

06 October 2010

children's day

At school the other day, we celebrated Children's Day, a Costa Rican mini-holiday. I'm usually all for the holiday celebrations, but I must admit that I was a little skeptical of this one initially, as I seem to remember my mother telling me that every day was "Children's Day" when I asked her about it when I was little. (Of course, I now realize that she was right about that...along with everything else!) Nevertheless, my co-teacher and I signed up to run an apple-bobbing booth during the festivities. To keep the germ rampage to a minimum, my co-teacher had the great idea to have the kids try to eat the apples as they were hanging by string instead of bobbing for them in tubs of water.

As it turns out, the celebration was awesome! We pretty much just enjoyed watching the kids having fun and laughing as they ran around to the different game stations for about an hour and then got back to business as usual. The kids had a chance to do things like decorate cookies, string fruit-loop necklaces, get their faces painted, and go mini-bowling. I think that the apple-bobbing station was the best place to be because it was hilarious to watch the kids try to get those apples off their strings.

To top it off, when we returned to the classroom, we discovered a special delivery that had been made while we were out playing:

Yes, it's true. Not one...

...but two batches of cupcakes were dropped off for our class to enjoy!

I know. Consider me an official Children's Day fan. Thanks, parents!!

03 October 2010

independence day

In September, Costa Ricans commemorated the 189th anniversary of their independence from Spain.

To celebrate this occasion, the school where I work held an Acto Civico the day before Independence Day. Most of the students came to school dressed in traditional costumes, and during a morning assembly we enjoyed many song and dance performances by the elementary and primary school students.

We also got to see traditional dances performed by the Huetares Indians, whose village we visited a few weeks earlier. Here are some pictures from their dances. The first two are from their bird dance, during which they dance around and around in circles to symbolize the circle of life and how birds mimic this cycle through their graceful flying patterns and subsequent return to earth. The bright fabric strips hanging from their arms represent bird wings.

My favorite part was seeing the small children dancing side-by-side with the older dancers. The tiniest girl is standing second from the right in this picture and is almost hidden by the microphone.

This picture was taken during a dance thanking the earth for providing crops to eat.
(Sorry for the poor quality...I was sitting pretty far away and didn't want to be a tacky creepster by going up closer to take pictures!)

The next day, we had a mid-week holiday from school, so some friends and I went downtown to watch the Independence Day parade. We stationed ourselves right outside the Teatro Nacional, one of the most famous landmarks in downtown San Jose.

The crowds were pretty thick but we stood up on a planter/bench thing to get a better view.

About 20 years ago, I would have been totally jealous of these girls for their snazzy baton-twirling outfits...and I'm still loving the gold trim hanging from those great little capelets and the patriotic pom-poms on their shiny newsboy hats!

There were lots of characters like this guy walking around. Someone was even dressed as a giant Elmo, but I (unfortunately) did not get a picture of him.

Rain or shine, an umbrella is an essential accessory in Costa Rica. In wet weather, it keeps you dry, and in dry weather, it protects you from the sun. These people were smart enough to bust theirs out during the parade.

After about an hour of watching the different parade groups (acts? units? shows?) go by, we decided to change it up and check out some new places around the downtown area. First we headed to the Mercado Central, where you can buy food, pets, spices in bulk, souvenirs, home goods, flowers, and pretty much anything else you might need. Even after wandering around little hallways here and there for over an hour, I'm pretty sure we saw only about 1/4th of what's there.

We also walked by the National Museum, which is known for its jade collection, but decided to save that for another day. However, we couldn't resist a quick photo-op with this sculpture outside.

Our last stop before lunch was the all-purpose department store Universal, which we were drawn to by a huge Legos display. (Did anybody else really like Legos as a kid, or was that just me?) Inside the store, near the jumbo Legos, we found some interesting notebooks. This one in particular cracked me up because I drive a [really old/with 220,000 miles] Impreza, and as much as I love it, I never thought I would see an Impreza on the cover of one of these Hot Rods notebooks. I mean, maybe on a Field and Stream magazine cover...
This store was also completely decked out for Christmas. Between all the trees, ornaments, garland, and wrapping paper, it was hard to remember that it was still September. I think I even caught a whiff of artificial pine scent at one point. By the time we left Universal, we were pretty hungry and decided to try the restaurant Vishnu, a vegetarian fast-food place that I remembered from my visit to Costa Rica two years ago. We left the downtown area around 1:30. As we were leaving, we saw that the parade, which had started at 9:00, was still going on! I'm glad we went to it, but I'm also glad that we didn't stick around until the end.