Monday, December 29, 2008
Thursday, November 27, 2008
High point of my little garden forays is the maturity of 3 papaya trees which I started in March. When they were 3 feet tall by the time I left in late April, I planted them near the driveway and in front of the entry steps. When I came back in late September, they were 15 feet tall and laden with fruit. Guests now enjoy fresh from the tree papaya with yogurt and any other fresh fruit from the local stand in Hopkins village. I was saddened to hear of the death of Mr. Ventura over the summer. He was an elderly, slightly overweight Garifuna man that became my friend by way of me practicing the Garinagu language on him. The Garifuna, of which Hopkins is probably 80%, are descendants of Africans who were on slave ships which crashed into the reef in the 1700's. the surviving Africans mingled and married with the local Carib Indians and settled in groups in Honduras, Belize, Guatemala and Nicaragua. The language that evolved to these culturally vibrant people is a mix of African and Arawac Indian. Since the staff in my busy little kitchen and restaurant are all young Garifuna who speak the language to each other, I try to learn as much as I can, usually things to do with food and drink, but also saying of life etc. By learning a new sentence each day, I soon began to steer conversations towards words I knew in Garifuna and such was the case with Mr. Ventura and I.
"Abba lebu green peppers, bieme lebu jicama," I said the first time I met him.(1 pound green peppers, 2 pounds jicama).
The startled gentleman asked where I learned to speak Arawac, and I told him I was just learning and my staff taught me.
My other great encounters with Mr. Ventura showcased a skill I developed from my many years buying produce and meats, and that is I am very good at estimating the weight of anything from 1/2 pound to 25 poundsw. I can fill a bag with any vegetable or fruit, weigh it in my hands and come to with-in one ounce every time.
I would walk to the hanging scale in the old vegetable stand and hold up bag after bag of vegetables, proclaiming its weight in Garinagu before placing it on the scale and watch as time after time I got it right. This always prompts me to bet a banana or bag of fresh roasted peanuts(Banana= 10 cents, peanuts 50 cents for a bag) to any new young recruit at the vegetable stand and Mr. Ventura would chuckle each time as he watched as I would eat my banana and tell the new guy that it is the absolute best banana I have ever eaten because I won it from him.
On another occasion, the ve getable stand was very busy, with a lot of locals buying one or 2 -50 cent items. I have learned patience in Belize, and indeed find it entertaining to see the people in big hurries for nothing so I patiently waited my turn when a Belizean working from one of the larger restaurant/resorts on the beach came in wanting a large amount of potatoes right now! An exchange of words in Garifuna took place and Mr. Ventura proceeded to ignore the man completely, even serving others that came in after him first. The last straw was when the old man looked at me, asked me how much of this and that I had, never putting it on the scale and allowing me to just pay for it with-out ever weighing it. That sent the "hurried up" man out the door with steam shooting from his ears. That was my chance to spring a new Garifuna saying I had been practicing.
"Fuda Bah, Chulu Beya Haruga
Beyba-ba-dan, chulu beya Oogaen," I said to Mr. Ventura after the episode.
(Hurry up- and get there tomorrow, take your time and get there today.)
"You got that exactly right my brother, " he said.
And we both had a great laugh.
Friday, October 10, 2008
Sure enough, Ivan stopped by with some nice sized lobsters and I bought 5 pounds of tails. They clean the still kicking crustaceans right on my dock and I ask for about 5 of the bodies. I will boil them and freeze the stock for such dishes as Belizean Boullabaisse, Lobster Bisque, and it is my secret ingredient for the clay pot version of Belizean Paella I do. I'll put the stock, saffron and rice in the clay pot with some of my own smoked sausage and cook it for half hour in the oven with no lid. Then I remove the pot and add fresh shrimp, grouper, lobster and any of the meats we smoke weekly. The lid goes back on and I finish it in the oven for 20 minutes and remove the clay pot, lid still on and let it rest for 10 minutes. Then, to the table and the resulting aroma-therapy olfactory overload as the lid is removed to the oohs and ahhs of salivating diners at the Barracuda Bar and Grill.
I will venture down to the vegetable stand in the middle of Hopkins later this morning to buy fresh veggies for tonights menu. Fresh jicama, peppers and onions, and some eggplant for my vegetarian feature of the night, eggplant parmesan. For a chef, there is no closer one can get to the food than buying fish from your own dock and vegetable from the farmers themselves. The pineapple guy will come on Monday and Thursday with the sweetest pineapples I've ever tasted, just picked that morning. Angie and I will go pick oranges and grapefruit from a friends grove for fresh squeezed juices as well as for our signature drink, the Grapefruit Margarita.
I was happy to see that one of my Italian Basil plants was kept alive through the stormy summer we had here while I was back in Alaska. I re-seeded more and the special order pinenuts should be here next week to make some great pesto.
Also growing well while I was gone are my Papaya trees, a mere foot tall when I left, these trees are now 15 feet and laden with thier succulent fruit. They'll be perfect by the time we start doing breakfast for our guests in a couple weeks.
Stay tuned for more fun and recipes and life in Hopkins, Belize, because I'm just getting started.
Wednesday, August 6, 2008
The first post on this blog represents in retrospect our meager beginnings at Beaches and Dreams. It is now the third season that Angela and I will be beginning in September of 2008 and we have spent the last 2 summers, from May until September, back in Alaska working at a remote camp in Galena, on the Yukon River, running a kitchen for the Alaska Fire Service. We are just about to head back down to Belize now and look back at the many improvements and changes we made to our beachfront resort and look forward to finishing the projects we have begun down there. So far we have added cement walkways and built a beach side dining deck, remodeled 2 of our 4 rooms and will do the other 2 upon our return in September. we added a tree house cabana that sleeps 4 for families with children and forged many friendships that will last a lifetime. Our plans for this season, as Angela and I are preparing to spend the entire next year there to gain residency and open year round include a dock extension which will house a bar and dining area over the water, and finally remodeling the upstairs living space where we have been staying in a state of semi-construction for the past two seasons. We have closed the resort the past 2 summers during the off season as we returned to Alaska for various reasons, but are now returning to stay and we can't wait!
Our restaurant, now named The Barracuda Bar and Grill, has proven to be just as busy as we wanted and we have gone to doing only breakfast for our guests and dinner 6 nights a week, with a daily happy hour happening from 4-6pm, closed on Tuesday. For a chef, it has moved me closer to the food than I have ever been. Daily forays to the see Francesco, the operator of the local vegetable stand, and a relationship with the actual fisherman who still paddle dugouts out every morning at sunrise, means that besides our base menu, a daily special board featuring just caught lobster and snapper fillets might just be filled out an hour before dinner time. It is a chefs dream, my personal culinary epiphany.
Angela too has reached a pinnacle of confectionery euphoria. Her deserts are highly acclaimed to visitors to the higher end resorts up the beach. It is not uncommon for one "batch" of visitors to extol the virtues of the Italian Rum Cream Torte upon their departure to a new "batch" of visitors as they cross paths on their way to the airport. Indeed, after many tourists have spent 2 or 3 happy hours at our little beachfront deck with us and later closed the bar after a lingering dinner, then a bottle of wine in our company before meandering back up the beach, they have conversations with total strangers telling them about the cuisine from "the Alaskans down the beach."
"You must stop down at the Barracuda Bar and Grill for some of the Mango Cream brulee' " they say, peppering the comment with stories of lingering dinners that started with conch seviche as an appetizer, with a segue of smoked pork tenderloin sliced over spicy black beans and the climactic ending of banana-rum torte. After a conversations at the airport, guests walk down the beach on their first foray in Hopkins and walk right up to us, as if they have known us all their lives. "you must be those guys from Alaska," they say.
"Why yes we are," I answer, and welcome to Beaches and Dreams, Home of the famous Barracuda Bar and Grill!"