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Monthly Archives: April 2012

Phone Book


2012 Belize Phone Book

I recently picked up my phone book for 2012.  The size is approximately 7″ tall by about 5″ wide and about 1″ thick.   Now you might say that a phone book is a phone book is a phone book.  But this one is a bit of a surprise.First off, it contains listings for the entire country, broken down according to town local and district rural.  I guess this shouldn’t be too surprising seeing as how I can call pretty much the entire country as if it were a local call.Another surprise was that it contains email addresses of all individuals who have active accounts with Belize TeleMedia – BTL. I guess this is pretty easy to do in a country that only has 330,000 citizens and not all have email addresses.Of course, there are the standard Yellow Pages listing businesses from the entire country.  The yellow pages contain subsections containing a hotel guide and a restaurant guide.  There is the standard government pages section and there is also a section including information about the different cultures that are represented here. I really like that the entire country is at my fingertips, especially as you can’t get everything in all Districts.

Just another little tidbit of news about this country that is Belize.

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Posted by on April 26, 2012 in Technology

 

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Cooking – A New Challenge


I consider myself to be a pretty good cook.  There isn’t much I won’t attempt to make especially when asked by my kids or husband for their birthday dinners. In the past my son has kept me challenged by asking for fish tacos (sound worse than they are), for duck a l’orange, black forest chocolate cake done with Kirsch and german chocolate, orange chiffon cake, tres leches cake.  These are just the ones I can remember that I have done over the years.  I have hosted a birthday party for my dad, with 75 guests in attendance – pretty much all food made with love by my husband and myself.  When my daughter got married I volunteered to make the wedding cake – this came about after she told me how much it would cost to have one made.  Then she proceeded to tell me she wanted 150 individual cakes done with fondant.  My first question was – “What’s fondant?”  I tell you this so you get the idea that I am not afraid to cook and try new foods or recipes in the kitchen.

When I came to Belize though, I felt like I needed to learn to cook all over again.  There are some foods I can get – chicken, rice, pasta, spaghetti sauce, carrots, onions, broccoli, watermelon, banana, oranges, (apples are $1 bz each – $0.50 cdn).

So during my first few days here, getting confused about the contents in the grocery stores, one of the first things I cooked was macaroni and cheese, with canned tuna and broccoli.  This is not a local dish, I am sure, but it was something I was familiar with.  The packages here in the stores are written mostly in Spanish, even though the official language of the country is English.  And this has made it more difficult when it comes to cooking local dishes.  I can look up the recipes and see what the ingredients are, but I can’t find them because I don’t speak or read Spanish. I don’t want to stick to macaroni and cheese, but I do find that I fall back on the old standby fairly often.

Macaroni and cheese, broccoli and canned tuna.

Boiled potatoes, scallions, chicken with jerk seasoning and canned peas and corn

One of the next meals that I cooked was potatoes, chicken (with jerk seasoning) and peas and corn from a can.  I am not a canned vegetable lover but in those first few days and weeks as I was getting to know and understand the grocery shopping concept here I was using what I knew.  I could get these items in the grocery store and I hadn’t become familiar with or comfortable with the market yet.  Frozen vegetables are non-existent here – not sure why.

Not one of the best ways to start eating in a new country with nobody to each or explain what to do but enough time has gone by now that I am ready to start preparing more local, authentic dishes.  Foods like Johnny Cakes, Breadfruit Pizza, Sapodilla Pudding – these will be on my menu in the coming weeks.  Oh, and be sure to watch for lessons on how to make Chocolate Chicken.

What have been your experiences with eating in a new country?

 
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Posted by on April 25, 2012 in Cooking in Belize

 

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Legal Work Requirements


It’s time to give an update on my legal status here in Belize. After the issues with my work permit, the process for obtaining my other documentation has been anti-climactic.

When I received my work permit I was informed that I needed to get a social insurance card.  I thought, oh great, more governmental red tape.  But it actually turned out to be a relatively easy process.  I went to the social security office to make my application.  The individual who was helping me did goof once – he told me that I would have to pay a fee of $25 BZD, but that was after telling me that there was no fee necessary.  So I asked him to show me where it was written about the fee.  He came back to his desk and told me that I didn’t have to pay the fee, the fee is applicable only on renewal.  I did have to have my picture taken though (again).

Note to those coming in to Belize – any pictures you need to have for government documentation – make sure your shoulders are covered.

After the picture was taken I was told to come back the following week, Monday.  Well, it turns out that was Easter Monday, and here in Belize all government offices are closed Easter Monday.  So I went to the office on the Tuesday after Easter Monday.  My card wasn’t in and I was told it was to be delivered to the Punta Gorda office end of day Tuesday and to come back Wednesday.  Well, I didn’t get back until today.  I picked up my card and the clerk who took my picture made sure that my shoulders were not showing in the picture.  Overall, a relatively easy process.

Same as for getting my Trade License – quite a smooth process.  No picture involved this time though, thank goodness.  I made my application, paid my fee and picked up my Trade License a week later.

So, definitely, after the mess that was the work permit, getting the social security card and Trade License was a smooth process.

 
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Posted by on April 23, 2012 in Moving - in progress...

 

Dinner and an Earthquake


Yesterday, at precisely 5:36 p.m., according to my blackberry phone, I received a call inviting me out for dinner. Or more precisely, bbq.  Of course I accepted.  And I was glad for the invite because otherwise my evening was to be spent, like so many other evenings, in front of my computer, doing who knows what!    And besides, I like the people.  So over the next few minutes, while deciding if I should change, getting ready, messing around with the doors, and finally I make my way out.  The walk wasn’t long and I was at the house by 6:00 p.m.  Talking with my hosts and a few minutes later one of them gets a text message asking if we felt the earthquake.  What?!?  I then receive an email from somebody asking if we are okay, with the subject of Heard about the Quake.  Started doing a search and couldn’t find anything about an earthquake and since we hadn’t felt anything we just carried on about our business.  As the evening goes on, enjoying bbq chicken, flour tortillas, beans and coleslaw and more people came.  Apparently they did feel the earthquake.  It turns out there was a 5.1 magnitude earthquake centered near Puerto Barrios Guatemala.  Puerto Barrios is only 45 minutes away by boat, across the harbour.  Didn’t feel a thing.   Maybe because it had a depth of 35.5 miles….

http://www.friendlyforecast.com/earthquake/2012/04/5-1-punta-gorda-toledo-belize-puerto-barrios-earthquake-april-22-2012-at-06-20-40-pm/

 
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Posted by on April 23, 2012 in Moving - in progress...

 

CACAO—From Bean to Yum


Cotton Tree Chocolate is a little shop on Front Street, in downtown Punta Gorda where the visitor will find chocolate delights beyond the usual edible treats. But before I introduce you to these treats, let me tell you how Cotton Tree Chocolate does their “stuff”.

My initial visit to the shop was scheduled for 9:00 on a Friday morning.  I was to meet with the shop owner/manager to go through the chocolate processing method but when I got there the hostess, Juli, was already conducting a tour for visitors to the Punta Gorda area.  So I stood back and just watched.  This particular group was from the United States, and they were at the tail ends of their vacation so what a good time to visit a chocolate shop.  Lucky people back home will be on the receiving end of delicious treats.  The group was taken through the steps of the chocolate processing method from beans to final product.

Cotton Tree Chocolate buys its chocolate from the Toledo Cacao Growers Association, a cooperative for cacao farmers, in the form of fermented and dried beans.  Once the beans are dried the husks can be removed and this is done with a grinding process that is generally done here when the weather is very still.

The grinding process removes the outer husks and leaves behind pieces of cacao bean known as nibs.  These nibs are very light and can blow away—hence the need to grind on a still day.

Then the staff at Cotton Tree Chocolate use a secret tool for separating the nibs from the outer husks—a hair dryer. This blows the husks away leaving the nibs.  The nibs are what get processed into sweet edible chocolate.

The next step in the Cotton Tree Chocolate process is to take some of those nibs and put them through an oil press.

This removes the cocoa butter from chocolate, leaving behind a cocoa powder, which can be sold on its own, and a cocoa liquor (not alcoholic).  The rest of the nibs are put through a grinder to make a chocolate paste.

To make chocolate, nibs, chocolate paste, cacao butter, vanilla bean and sugar are mixed together in a conch.

The conch is essentially a mixing vat with grinding stones inside that grind the mixture to a smooth, liquidy chocolate sweetness.  This makes dark chocolate.  In order to make milk chocolate, milk powder is added to the mixture.  The process of grinding takes 3 days to make the mixture completely smooth.

Next, the chocolate undergoes a process called tempering.  The purpose of this process is to ensure that the chocolate has a uniform sheen and a crisp bite to it.  When chocolate snaps it is tempered properly.  Some chocolatiers use the manual method of tempering which involves heating up and cooling the chocolate to very specific temperatures.  At Cotton Tree Chocolate, the chocolatiers use an electronic machine to perform the tempering process.

After tempering the chocolate is ready to be poured into moulds.  Some of the nibs can be used to decorate the bars of chocolate and to add more chocolate flavour.  Mint can be added as well for a minty chocolate.

When the bars have set they are wrapped by hand into wrappers made for Cotton Tree Chocolate to be sold in the shop/factory.  On display you can find, chocolate lip balm, chocolate soap, earrings made from cacao beans as well as different varieties of chocolate bars.

The chocolate bars that are made at Cotton Tree Chocolate have a range of between 40% and 70% cacao butter.

Some of the products that are manufactured with cacao by various companies around the Toledo District include soap, lip balm, earrings (made with the bean) and are available for purchase at Cotton Tree Chocolate.

 
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Posted by on April 22, 2012 in Toledo District at Work

 

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2012 Cacao Festival


 2012, known as the year of the Maya, is expected to be a year of cultural events throughout the country of Belize.  In the Toledo District, where the Maya comprise approximately 50% of the population it will be no different.  This year, in particular, the Cacao Fest organizers have ensured that the festival committee involves the local Maya people.

The Cacao Festival is embarking on its 6th annual event and is hoping that this year will be at least as well-attended as the previous years have been.  The goal of the Cacao Festival is to raise awareness of the Toledo District with the result of that goal being improved lives of the local people through increased tourism and its ripple effects.

This year the Cacao Festival will run over three dates beginning in the evening of Friday May 18, 2012.  There will be day long events and activities over Saturday May 19 and Sunday May 20.  With Monday May 21 being a national holiday, Victoria Day, the revellers can fully participate in the events and spend the holiday recovering.

Starting the 2012 Cacao Festival will be a talk given by Dr. Jaime Awe.  He will be talking about the Maya Calendar 2012 and it will be presented at 2:00 p.m. at the TCGA conference room on Main Street.

Then we move to the culinary event of the day—the Wine and Chocolate Fest.  Same as last year, the event will be held at The Coral House Inn, hosted by Darla and Rick Mallory.  The evening will be spent tasting wines and chocolate hors d’oeuvres.  The actual menu is kept secret until the evening itself but past menus have included small tamales with chocolate flakes.  So be sure to expect more interesting varieties of local Maya foods with chocolate influences.

As well, there will be musical entertainment of a jazz persuasion along with a solo musical presentation, by TumulKin Center of Learning Marimba Boys and Harp Music by Florencio Mes. Present will be local chocolate artisans and connoisseurs presenting their particular lines of chocolate.  Included are Kakaw Chocolate, Goss Chocolate, Cotton Tree Chocolate, Cyrilla’s Chocolate and others.

Last year the attendance reached 350 who enjoyed this interesting combination of “sinful” treats.  Of course, true chocolate connoisseurs know that real chocolate is not “sinful”, just delicious!

Saturday, May 19

The events on Saturday are structured to promote the Toledo District’s  food and crafts, through culture and harmony.

The Saturday is set to take advantage of bus and market day.  Even though the open-air market is  open several days a week, the Saturday is the busiest day.  Eight or ten buses  filled with villagers from surrounding villages come to town to sell their food and crafts at the market.    Front Street will be closed to vehicular traffic to make room for participating vendors who have paid for a booth to be active participants in the food fest.

There will be 6 different ethic groups represented at the food fair—Maya, Garifuna, East Indian, Mestizo, Kriol and Mennonites.  Part of the emphasis this year for the vendors will be working the booth with a green attitude—ensure garbage is placed in appropriate receptacles, natural materials are used to decorate the booth and preferably the booth holders will be able to demonstrate the process involved in the making of their particular craft.  In order to please repeat visitors the vendors are encouraged to create and demonstrate new recipes and crafts each year.

As well, during the daytime there will be events titled Cacao for Kids, Sea Toledo Marine, Cacao Trail Tours.

Cacao for Kids is a scheduled fun-time for children.  There will be short documentaries presented on how chocolate is made, from the perspective of a cacao farmer.  The Toledo Cacao Growers Association building will be used as a cacao market presenting how cacao was used as a currency for bartering or trade.

The Sea Toledo Marine is intended to give everybody a chance to appreciate the beautiful coastal waters of Toledo.

Cacao Trail Tours was first promoted by Toledo Cacao Growers Association where visitors have an opportunity to visit the farms involved in the cacao trade.  T.I.D.E., Cotton Tree Lodge, and Belcampo Lodge have been participants in the past.

On Saturday evening the Cacao Festival turns its attention to the adults of the crowd.  There is a variety of music planned, from jazz to Garifuna to Caribbean featuring Toledo’s locals like Lila Vernon, and District guests such as the New Rebels and a special Maya presentation by Palenque Rojo of Chiapas, Mexico   There are several restaurants scheduled to participate and each will be presenting a different flavour, according to their own specialty.  Fireworks are expected to be part of the concert evening this year as well.

Sunday, May 20

Day 3 of the Cacao Festival is scheduled as a day of culture, with specific focus on the Maya, and is set with the backdrop of the Lubaantun archaeological reserve.  The atmosphere is expected to be subdued, respectful; keeping in mind the location which was used as a sacred Maya reserve.

Booths will be set up at the site, to promote foods, arts and crafts of the district.  The activities of the day will focus on Maya history.  This will unfold through a series of talks and tours of the archaeological reserve as well as in the form of the Deer Dance and a presentation by Palenque Rojo of Chiapas Mexico.

At various times throughout the day there will be live presentations with a renowned archaeologist and during the time between the presentations the participants can sit on blankets and enjoy the music or visit the booths.  Or take in the local nature directly.

The closing activities are being held as a secret this year, but they are expected to be quite entertaining.

 
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Posted by on April 16, 2012 in Toledo District at Work

 

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Creatures


Over the past few weeks I have been “introduced” in one way or another, mostly accidental, to creatures that are indigenous to Belize, or maybe just to the southern part of Belize.

The most recent discovery was of a Hunter Spider.  I am not sure if this is its name or if it is the classification.  Just as some spiders spin webs and others lay traps, the hunter spider jumps on its prey.  From what I was told it likes to hunt insects and other types of bugs, so this would be a good type of spider to keep around.  The spider in the picture  had a body of approximately 1″ long and its legs were approximately 2″ long.  Total span was about 5″.

Yesterday’s creature was a blue crab.  This one really surprised me because we are 3 blocks from the sea.  Now I knew these creatures didn’t live in the sea as I have seen their homes across the road from the water, but I didn’t expect 3 town blocks, lots of houses and people in between the crab and the water.  I am learning something new all the time!  The crab in the picture below has a body of about 4-5″ across and it’s legs were about 6-7″ long.  And apparently, they grow much bigger.  One has been seen by my housemates that had a body span of about 12″.

Two weeks ago I came across road kill – a scorpion had been flattened but you will be able to get a pretty good idea of what it looked like.  And apparently this one was a youngster.  The length of this one was approximately 4-5″.

The other create I came across in my travels was of a snake.   Now, originally I thought that what I saw was a sloughed skin from a snake, but upon speaking with a resident snake specialist, it turns out that what I came across was just a dead snake, without its head attached.  Now this is quite possible as it is not uncommon to see the men walking around with machetes.  And one of the purposes of this is for protection from the snakes.  According to the specialist, the way we know this is not just sloughed skin is that it isn’t clear and colourless.  When I was visiting his “zoo” earlier this week he showed me what a sloughed skin would look like.  He also showed me several other types of snakes that he has in captivity, including a Fer de Lance, known locally as a Tommy Gough, a Coral Snake, a King Snake (and these two are quite similar but one is highly poisonous and the other isn’t).  The length of this snake was approximately 2 feet.  And if you look closely you can see the backbone running down the length.

It has been an interesting couple of weeks and I look forward to seeing and learning more!

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Posted by on April 7, 2012 in Flora and Fauna

 

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