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Sharing the Experience – IXCACAO


This week, February 4, 2013, I had the pleasant responsibility to show my husband some of what I love about the Toledo District, here in Belize.  We visited Cyrila’s Chocolate, now known as IXCACAO, a business run by a delightful husband and wife team, Juan and Abelina Cho.

Arrangements were very easy to make.  I contacted Juan via Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/Ixcacao) and he replied within a short period of time to discuss the details with me.  After all the plans were arranged I was pretty excited to go with Bob and to see his reaction.  I remember mine from a year ago and even wrote about it in the local tourism paper called the Toledo Howler.  My closing comments when I left was “Wow” so of course I was eager to see my husband’s reaction too.    Our agenda was to meet with Abelina, who has now been dubbed the Chocolate Queen, a promotion from the Chocolate Princess, for lunch, an overview of the process, and then a tour of the farm where the products are grown.

Abelina prepared chicken mole (pronounced molay), curried rice, black beans, boiled plantain, mashed yam, fresh hot chocolate made from local grown beans and for dessert we tasted a sampling of the chocolates produced at IXCACAO.  Portion size for the meal was fine as it was a self-serve setting.  He loved the plantains, “very good” the chicken wasn’t overly spicy, and overall he quite enjoyed it.  The chocolate dessert was a big hit.  The hot chocolate was unsweetened and he tried it that way just for the experience.  Eating or drinking chocolate without sugar isn’t for everybody and it may be an acquired taste but it definitely is something to try.

Plate of Nibs

Plate of Nibs

Next on the agenda was the overview of the chocolate making process, both historically and now.  Abelina started out with roasting some beans that had already been fermented but there was a skin on the beans, similar to that of peanuts, which needed to be removed.  She brought a plate to us to remove this skin and to break up the beans.  The beans broke pretty easily into smaller pieces called nibs.

It was these nibs that we ground up into chocolate using a mano and metate, a tool used historically for the grinding of chocolate.  In older days chocolate was used by the Maya for ceremonial purposes and not as an everyday sweet and in this way the mano and metate process would be efficient.  It took a while for the little nibs to be crushed into a fine paste that could be processed further.  We each took turns crushing the nibs and then Abelina took over to make the paste even smoother.  When it was pretty smooth we opted to have unsweetened dark chocolate treats, but I would guess that it is at this stage the sugar would be added if sweetened chocolate was desired.  After about 10 minutes in the refrigerator the chocolate had set up and we were able to enjoy the fruits of our labour.  Because the chocolate wasn’t perfectly smooth our chocolate had texture from the tiny bits of nibs that remained in it.  My husband thoroughly enjoyed learning about the process and has a greater appreciation for the amount of work and processing that goes into making a good quality chocolate bar.

Young Cacao Pod

Young Cacao Pod

The next phase of our day was a tour of the farm where the cacao is grown.  Abelina and Juan also grow ginger and sugar cane, both of which are used to flavour the chocolate.  Trekking through the jungle, up into the hills that surround Punta Gorda, climbing and climbing, we got a bit of a workout.  When the trees opened up we could see for miles around us, over the top of the jungle, what a vista!  Bob was rendered speechless with the view.  On the way up Abelina chose a cacao pod for us to open to see the beans in their natural state.  It’s not what you would expect, I’m sure….  In the picture to the left are the beans from inside the cacao pod.  The white substance that surrounds the beans is edible and tastes like so many of the fruits that are grown in the area – pineapple, mango, citrusy, and this is quite a surprise because there is no hint of chocolate flavouring at all.  The chocolate flavour comes out after the fermentation/roasting process has been completed.

Cacao Beans

Cacao Beans

At the top of the hill was our destination – the sugar cane pressing machine.  Abelina took her machete and cut down several stalks of sugar cane, peeled it and gave us a small piece to taste in its natural state.  Sugar cane eaten this way is good but the best (in my mind) was to come.  Abelina took the rest of the stalks that she had chopped and put them through a press to squeeze to release the cane juice.  This was good, and yes it was as sweet as you might expect.  I had my water and lime with me and poured some of the sugar cane juice into my bottle.  This was a tasty, tasty treat.

Squeezing Cane

Squeezing Cane

And we were both surprised at how much cane juice came from a stalk of sugar cane.  The next step in the process is to carry the buckets of cane juice back down the hill to where Juan and Abelina refine the cane juice to remove much of the water in order to use it for sweetening the chocolate.

Cane Syrup

Cane Syrup

The whole tour took approximately 4 hours beginning with lunch and finishing with the hike down the hill at the farm.  What an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon.  And I can tell you, my husband enjoyed the experience as much as I did.

This is just one of the activities that are available in the Toledo District that you can enjoy on a regular basis when you make Belize a permanent destination.  For more information contact me at wendy@belizepropertycenter.com.

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Posted by on February 7, 2013 in Flora and Fauna

 

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And the Journey Continues…


January 28, 2013 I flew back into Belize, exactly 4 months after leaving.  The past 4 months have been quite a roller coaster of activities and emotions but my desire didnt’ stray too far from Paradise.

So my first day back was  almost a non-event.  Back in Toronto yesterday morning the weather was horrendous – we had a snow storm which covered the roads completely so we couldn’t see where the road started and the shoulders ended.  As a result, 3 lanes became 2 and it was interesting to note that everybody drove as if we only had a 2 lane highway.  The snow was coming down so heavily that I visualized warp 9 as if I were on the deck of the Starship Enterprise.  What should have taken about 60 minutes to drive took over 90 minutes to drive – top speed on a series 400 highway was 80 km per hour and that wasn’t often, so no warp speed, it was all visual.  So we make it to the airport and boarded our flight.  We learned later that about 150 flights had been cancelled out of Toronto to various destinations, starting about 2 hours after our flight took off.  We were late taking off as well.  Another first for me was the de-icing process.  The whole process took approximately 45 minutes, which also set us late to leave for Belize.  But I was glad for the de-icing because we had a couple of inches of snow on the wings and on the top of the plane.

snowplo-473x315

http://www.citynews.ca/2013/01/28/school-bus-flight-cancellations-amid-freezing-rain-in-gta/

So after the flight took off the rest of the trip was uneventful – thank goodness.

Then we arrive here and believe it or not I was recognized by a friend from Punta Gorda.  What a surprise – I guess this is what happens in a small community.  And I feel like I am back home.  Oh, not for the people because anybody who read my previous entries, will know that I do miss my family.  But I love this place.   And I am back, with hubby in tow for a month, and we are going to do a lot of investigating to learn what we need to do to make this permanent.

And I’m not missing the snow either, or the slippery driving or the cold.

 
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Posted by on January 29, 2013 in Moving - in progress...

 

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2012 in review


I want to thank all of you who took the time to read and comment on my blog.  As you know I have been back in Canada for a family emergency that continues even still.  My heart and my life are still in Belize and I am planning for the day that my husband and I are able to return.

I also want to wish you all a Happy New Year and I hope that it brings for you what you work and wish for.

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 4,600 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 8 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

 

Blogging Hiatus


As the main subject of this blog was about my experiences while in Belize, I will need to suspend publishing any articles for a while.  I have had to return to Canada for a family medical issue.

When I return to Belize I will pick it up again.

In case you were wondering…

 
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Posted by on October 11, 2012 in Moving - in progress...

 

The Royal Rat


I taste tested something new this week – The Royal Rat.   It was done in a hot peppery gravy and was tender enough that it could be cut with a fork.  The first bite, taken kind of absent-mindedly, reminded me of beef.  It wasn’t until I cut the next piece off, when I was looking at the texture, that I realized I had forgotten I ordered Gibnut and that I was not eating beef.  The meat looks like well-done organ meat, with a tight, fine-looking grain and I was surprised at how much it reminded me of the taste of beef.  Now here is something that doesn’t taste like chicken, lol.

I have seen pictures where they batter and deep fry the feet and I don’t think I could eat that.  I have also seen pictures where they serve the animal whole on your plate and I don’t think I could eat that either.  With the animal cut up into smaller pieces I can honestly say I enjoyed eating this new meat.  I may even buy some and work with it myself.  Maybe make a stew or something…

Now, I am sure you must be asking – What is Gibnut?  And why is it called The Royal Rat?

Gibnut, as it is known in Belize, is officially called Paca, and is considered to be a rodent.  They grow to between 13 – 26 lbs and live in burrows underground.  They are good swimmers, they like to live in forested areas, and they prefer to be close to rivers.  Gibnut likes to eat cassava, yam, sugar cane, corn and other foods which are staples for the local villagers.  They have 2 litters a year and in some areas their populations are growing.  The Mountain Paca apparently has declining numbers but the Lowland Paca is not suffering the same fate.  Due to this it is possible that the Gibnut could be raised commercially, although it is said that the farmed Gibnut doesn’t taste as good as the wild Gibnut.

The name Royal Rat was given to the Gibnut, not as a slur against the Queen, but because she was served Gibnut during one of her visits to Belize.

Lowland Paca

Sources

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lowland_Paca

http://EzineArticles.com/?expert=Anthony_Benjamin

 
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Posted by on September 7, 2012 in Cooking in Belize

 

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Enter Technology


It’s been two weeks since I wrote my last blog entry, since I last gave an update on my life here in Belize.  I can honestly say that my days have pretty much blended one into another and before you know it it’s been 2 weeks.

I did receive a nice package in the mail from darling hubby.  He put a package in the mail, priority through Canada Post and 3 days later I was able to pick it up at the local Punta Gorda post office.  Not bad service for a 3rd world country.  Or as I like to call it – 2nd world country since some of the communications infrastructure here are on par with those in parts of North America.  We can get high-speed internet service, although it is a bit expensive.  The cell phone network is pretty decent too – I can call the entire country on the local dime.  My cell phone also has a 10 gb data package – not too shabby for  a non-first world country.  Anyway, that is just a bit of an aside.

So now a week later and I got to enjoy some of the results of that visit to the post office.  I was sent a Blackberry PlayBook and as my darling hubby bought one for himself we are able to have video chats with each other, away from the computer.  Darling hubby packed up his PlayBook and set up 2 video calls with family members.  The first was with my step-daughter and her daughter JuJuBean.  The second was with my daughter and her daughter, Baby Doll.  It was wonderful.  This is one of the downsides to moving to a different country.  If I had my druthers, I’d ruther my family came with me.  Thank goodness for technology, though, as it makes the distance apart seem not quite so far.  Thanks dear!

 
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Posted by on September 1, 2012 in Technology

 

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Help send a young lady through high scho


Help send a young lady through high school. Make a donation – every little bit helps. Thank you – http://ow.ly/dbSgL

 
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Posted by on August 25, 2012 in Moving - in progress...

 
 
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