Cooking and eating through a new culture

When life gives you limes…

It’s Rafa’s birthday.

I love birthdays. I really do. But being in the throes of a foreign country, in a new house, a whole new LIFE, I am finding it challenging to get my birthday groove on. Rafa has been working mad hours and I really wanted to do something special. We had stopped at a lovely restaurant a few weeks ago for a glass of wine so I had Rafa make reservations there for dinner. Hardly a surprise, but still a nice treat. At least I can get the whole trifecta of shaved legs, sassy dress and Cosmo smokey eyes going on.  I still had an urge to do more.  In fact, “more” usually doesn’t touch it…I go overboard. But how?

I ruminated on it for a few days until it hit me. No, seriously I almost got hit in the head…by a lime. There is a wonderfully abundant lime tree in the front yard and while I was puttering around one nearly clocked me. Huh…Rafa’s favorite dessert is key lime pie. I could do this…maybe. I am not a baker. Baking requires a precision I am just not accustomed to. I’ve done it and it’s been good. It’s just that afterwards, I’m exhausted. If you bust your ass cooking, you have a MEAL. Baking produces a fraction of the product with ten times the mess. And to make matters more complicated, I have no oven cause there is no 220 line yet. In fact, I really don’t have much of a kitchen. So I ask you, what do you find odd about my new temporary kitchen?

What is odd about my kitchen?

But if anything, I am resourceful! And regardless of what my father thinks, I DO have a pioneering spirit. Not that prissy DIY-look-how-cool-I-am attitude, but an honest to god I-am-in-a-third-world-country-I-gotta-make-this-work drive. So when life gives you limes…I WILL make key lime pie. Even if it’s on the hood of a Mitsubishi.

The internet had an abundance of no bake recipes, but only for the filling. I was having a crust dilemma. Bakerys are very different down here. They use meat instead of sweetness. Meat pastries and breads are divine and I have developed quite a habit since there is a great one right around the corner now, but you will not see a great selection of gooey, sweet, goodness. That goes for the measly baking section in grocery stores too. Lots of corn flour. A little thin in the pie department. I contacted a friend to ask about using her modern, ample kitchen in exchange for fresh limes, but as luck would have it, I got to go to the mother of all expat grocery stores: Automercado in Escazú .

Who ever owns Automercado, is a food pimp. Seriously. You can actually petition the store for recommendations and they will actively get them…for a price. I have watched expat’s eyes glaze over and their bottom lips quiver at the glorious sight of rows and rows of American food. They coo and whimper over the availability of Soft Scrub, Cool Whip and, for me, Keebler Ready Made Graham crust. I am not ashamed to say I did a little jig in the aisle.

With the crust disaster averted, I plugged ahead with the pie. I harvested and juiced enough limes for a cup of juice and zested until my knuckles were bloody. Condensed sweetened milk, vanilla pudding and some fresh whipped heavy cream folded together and cooled in the fridge, voilà! Happy key lime pie made with love.


  • 1 (10 inch) pie crust, baked and cooled
  • 1 tablespoon grated lime zest (I added more)
  • 1 cup fresh lime juice
  • 1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 (3.5 ounce) package instant vanilla pudding mix
  • 1 (8 ounce) container frozen whipped topping, thawed (I made my own with heavy cream and sugar)


  1. In a large bowl, mix together lime rind, lime juice, and condensed milk. Whisk in pudding mix and allow to set up 5 minutes. Fold in 8 ounce tub of whipped topping. Pour mixture into pastry shell. Chill at least 2 hours before serving. Garnish with additional whipped topping if desired.

Now I gotta shave my legs.


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One thought on “When life gives you limes…

  1. Haley Cooney on said:

    Ha! Excellent Dawn, so happy it worked out. You can order online from Automercado as well, and they deliver too!

    BTW – love your kitchen, you should gut the van and turn it into a breakfast nook.

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