Wednesday, November 25, 2009

On the Eve of Thanksgiving

This morning, as I walked into the supermarket, I couldn't help but get into the holiday spirit. The Christmas decorations, the crowds and a happy state of mind just did it for me. I have much to be grateful for, and I don't take any of it for granted. Be it bad or good, I feel a tremendous sense of gratitude for all the lessons learned. I realize this year has been especially hard for many people, with so much economic angst and uncertainty. Ever the optimist, I try to look at the positive side of things. I also appreciate the smallest things in life. In the end, it's all about being able to share all the ups and downs with those who care and love you the most.

This year, we'll be spending Thanksgiving with some family friends. For the first time in many years, I actually don't have to make a meal. Come to think of it, I'll actually miss doing that. I will be making a pumpkin cheesecake though. Yes, I love to bake and I can't imagine living without an oven. Besides spending quality time with those whom you love, the next best thing about the holidays is eating! Hands down! Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Going Beyond Rice & Beans

Rice and beans (arroz y habichuela) is a staple of Puerto Rican cuisine. Most people eat it at least once a day, some even eat it for breakfast. As much as I like eating comida criolla (local Puerto Rican food), I don't eat it everyday. I'm not a health nut, and I don't follow a specific diet, but I do try to avoid eating a lot of red meat. Unfortunately, comida criolla is meat-heavy. One of the things which I do miss about living in New York is the food! Chinatown, Koreantown, Curry Hill, the East Village, and the list goes on, were some of the neighborhoods which I often ate at. Of course, when speaking of New York's restaurant scene to that of Puerto Rico's is like comparing apples and oranges.

For those looking for something besides your traditional rice and beans in Puerto Rico, all is not lost. Here's a list of my favorite non-Puerto Rican eating establishments on the island (most are in the San Juan-metro area):

Peruvian: Lima, Perurrican
Chinese: Great Taste Restaurant
German: Casa Bavaria in Morovis (they also serve comida criolla)
Mexican: Frida's
Pizza: Juan Pan
Argentinian: Chimichurri
Seafood: Pez Dorado, José Enrique
Steak: BLT Steak
Sushi: Jinya

For a more detailed listing of restaurants located throughout the island, check out Sal PR. Unfortunately, the Website is only in Spanish. Some of the search functions don't work very well but it's perhaps the most comprehensive guide we have in Puerto Rico.

(Please note: I am not in any way affiliated with Sal PR or any of the restaurants listed above).
(Photo above is of Casa Bavaria's schnitzel)

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Hacienda San Pedro

Two weekends ago, a group of us went to Jayuya, a mountain town known for its numerous coffee plantations. From San Juan, the trip took nearly two hours, since it was full of hairpin turns. For those who suffer from car sickness, please take a motion-sickness pill. Although it wasn't an easy journey, it was absolutely worth the effort. The countryside was very lush and green, and the air was very crisp. We even came across several horses in the middle of the road when we reached the center of Jayuya. It felt great to get out of San Juan.

The purpose of our trip was to visit Hacienda San Pedro, which offers tours on Sundays at 10AM and 3PM. Unfortunately, we missed the morning tour but we were able to enjoy our cappuccinos, which were excellent! The cafe, which has a great menu, had a very cozy and inviting ambiance. You can purchase their coffee at the shop. There's also a small exhibition on the second-level providing visitors information about the plantation's history. To our pleasant surprise, we were given a brief tour of the facilities by a gentleman named Roberto, who turned out to be the proprietor of Hacienda San Pedro.

For coffee-lovers and those who are interested in learning more about Puerto Rican coffee, I would definitely recommend visiting this lovely plantation. If going from San Juan, I suggest going through Ponce, since the roads are much easier to navigate. Do call in advance if you're planning on visiting. We also came across several other coffee plantations, such as Hacienda Patricia and Hacienda Ana, along the way. Since my camera's batteries died, I couldn't take any pictures. I'm definitely planning on going back to Hacienda San Pedro though! In the meantime, I did find a photostream on Flickr with some great shots.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Salsa in Puerto Rico

Last week, I went salsa dancing with some friends and great times were had. I'm not the best salsa dancer but after some alcoholic beverages, it certainly helped me ease into it. Earlier this year, I took a salsa class with a friend and what I learned slowly came back to me. Unfortunately, like a friend of mine was lamenting, salsa is no longer very popular on the island. Nowadays, most clubs play reggaetón music, which I'm not a fan of. Unfortunately, I've only come across a few places in which you can dance to salsa, like The Marriot Courtyard Hotel in Isla Verde (on Saturday nights), Punto Fijo (in the basement of El Centro de Bellas Artes in Santurce) and Nuyorican Cafe (in Old San Juan).

One of the things I enjoy about salsa is the music. Of the places I mentioned above, Nuyorican Cafe had the best band playing. If you've never tried dancing to salsa, do give it a try. It's a lot of fun and it can be a great way to get some exercise! Believe me, after a while, you'll start sweating. Every summer, Puerto Rico plays host to the International Salsa Congress. For more information on salsa-related event, someone recommended me Salsa Crazy as a resource. I never thought salsa was such a huge international phenomenon until I recently danced with a Danish gentleman. To my surprise, he learned how to dance salsa in Denmark!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Las Cabezas de San Juan

Surrounded by mangroves, flora and fauna, and gorgeous scenery, Las Cabezas de San Juan ("the headlands of San Juan") is a beautiful nature reserve located in the eastern tip of the island. Maintained by the Conservation Trust of Puerto Rico (El Fideicomiso de Conservación de Puerto Rico), despite its name, it is actually located in Fajardo. This nature reserve has a bioluminescent bay, and seven distinct coastal eco-systems. Las Cabezas is now officially one of my favorite places on the island. Visiting this nature reserve has made me appreciate the island's natural beauty so much more.

Tours of Las Cabezas officially last two hours, although ours lasted a little longer. We hopped on a trolley and were taken to see the reserve's mangrove forest, rocky beach and lighthouse, where we enjoyed panoramic views of the Fajardo area. We were able to see Vieques, Culebra and the Caya Icacos islands from the top of the lighthouse. At the end of our visit, the tour guide also gave us demonstrations of a sea cucumber, and other aquatic creatures. The tour was excellent and the nature reserve is very well maintained. In order to visit Las Cabezas, visitors must call the Conservation of PR and make reservations ahead of time. I would also suggest bringing a hat, sunscreen and wear comfortable clothing and shoes if going to the reserve. One last thing, bring plenty of water!