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Belizean Gastronomy – Flour Tortillas


Hello Friends,

It’s been a while since my last blog post but I wanted to get back into the swing of it and reach out sharing my Belizean experiences including recipes I prepared.  I learned how to make tortillas, black beans and rice, rice and beans, salsa and more. These sound pretty standard, especially the salsa but I learned to love it in a new way.

The food I could find in Belize was pretty varied and in many cases different than I was used to. Callilou? What is that? Dragon fruit – that’s interesting. Cilantro – not on my menu list previously. So definitely I ran into some challenges.  And it is some of these challenges I will share with you.

The first recipe I want to share with you is flour tortillas.  I found some recipes online and tried them and while they weren’t too bad, they weren’t great.  They were tough after they cooled down. But I think I figured out what my problem was – not rolling them out thin enough and not cooking them in a hot enough pan.  I don’t have a comal (smooth, flat griddle typically used in Mexico and Central America to cook tortillas, toast spices, sear meat, and generally prepare food.), just a non-stick frying pan, which I certainly don’t get hot enough to properly cook tortillas.   So that’s advice #1.

220px-Comal2

Here’s the recipe I followed, and I found it on http://www.tasteofhome.com/Recipes/Homemade-Tortillas.

After I found this recipe I use it all the time.

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  1. In a large bowl, combine flour and salt. Stir in water and oil. Turn onto a floured surface; knead 10-12 times, adding a little flour or water if needed to achieve a smooth dough. Let rest for 10 minutes.
  2. Divide dough into eight portions. On a lightly floured surface, roll each portion into a 7-in. circle.
  3. In a large nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray, cook tortillas over medium heat for 1 minute on each side or until lightly browned. Keep warm. Yield: 8 tortillas.

I love using these tortillas to have peanut butter and banana sandwiches, or to use stuffed with chicken and salsa.    I’ve also cut them into wedges, coated with olive oil and then seasoned them with a chili powder, paprika, cumin, pepper, salt, garlic powder mixture that I put together.  I’ve then baked them in the oven at 325 degree F for about 10-12 minutes or so (I think..)  Watch them and you will see when to take them out of the oven.  Put these tortilla chips together with home made salsa and you have a tasty healthy treat.

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Posted by on September 29, 2013 in Cooking in Belize

 

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Critters and More Critters… cont’d


Last year I wrote about the critters I had encountered in my life here in Belize.  There was one I didn’t write about last year and I have had a new one this year.

The first critter encounter I am telling you about involves a scorpion.  I know I wrote about scorpions last year but those were just impersonal encounters but last September I had a more personal experience, although I wasn’t stung.  I was doing some house-sitting for some friends at the outskirts of town and I noticed that I had a friendly visitor inside the house in the form of a scorpion.  I tried to trap it but it was too quick and it hid out under the island in the kitchen.  The critter was able to get under the cabinet by following the grout lines of the tiles – I honestly didn’t think they could fit under that small a space but just goes to show what I know….

Anyway, one morning about 6:00 I woke up and sat up on the bed with feet dangling over the side.  I felt something weird on my back at the top so I reached around and flicked at my pyjamas. Something fell on the bed behind me, making a bit of a thudding sound.  I turned around and it was a scorpion.  I’m making the assumption it was the same one that went under the kitchen island about 2 weeks prior but I can’t say for sure.  I grabbed the trusty fly swatter, picked up the scorpion from the bed and took it outside.  I didn’t get stung and I have no idea how long the creature was with me in bed.

I have come to learn that most of the scorpions that reside in Belize are not toxic to humans.  The venom and sting may hurt and you may end up with a red area where stung but unless you are allergic to the toxin you likely won’t have too severe a reaction.  I’m glad I didn’t have to learn this the hard way.

Encounter # 2 was more recent – just about 3 weeks ago.  My husband wanted to go swimming in the sea, and he encouraged me to join him.  In all the time I had been here last year I didn’t go into the sea once and I did kind of mention this point to my family and friends so it didn’t take much to convince me to go into the water.  The water was a bit murky from the sand being churned up but with my trusty shoes on I figured I was safe, so I trod carefully into the water.  I got in as far as 2 feet from the shoreline and up to about 6” up my leg when I felt something on the bottom of my foot.  Startled, I think I jumped, and then I felt an extremely sharp pain on my foot where it becomes a leg.  I got out of the water, blood pouring down my foot and oh, man, hurt.  At first I thought I maybe was grabbed at by a crab but the shape of the wound didn’t look like claws made it.  Good thing we had the car with us that day or the walk to the hospital would have been extremely agonizing.  Turns out I was stung by a stingray.  The barb didn’t stay in but it did penetrate almost down to the bone with severe tissue damage surrounding the wound entry.  Let me tell you, this is the most painful thing I have ever experienced in my life.  The venom burns and it burned for just about 6 hours.

The staff members at the local hospital were very good.  The downside is that their experience with stingray stings is very limited so the knowledge on how to treat the venom is also limited.  Much research over the next few days showed that stingray venom is unable to withstand heat so the initial treatment is to submerge the affected area into water as hot as one can stand it for up to an hour.  This breaks down the venom which, I would guess, reduces the pain and probably the surrounding tissue damage.  Barring this unknown information, the wound was cleaned and treated, pain shots given, anti-inflammatory medicines, muscle relaxants, antihistamines and antibiotics were provided, all at no cost to me.  Over the next week the wound proceeded to get worse so I had to visit the hospital daily for penicillin injections, bandage changes and I was given another oral antibiotic, again all at no charge to me.  The staff members were wonderful and helpful and I’m actually pleased that I can give a good review for my experience.

On a final note, I have also learned about doing the stingray shuffle when entering the water.  Apparently the vibration made from shuffling your feet will be felt by the stingray and it will move off.  They aren’t aggressive creatures but they will protect themselves.  And I guess when you are stepped on you use whatever tools you have including a poisonous barb.

Do you know anybody who has been stung by either a scorpion or a stingray?  What did they do to stop the hurt?

 
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Posted by on February 27, 2013 in Flora and Fauna

 

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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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