Friday, December 11, 2009
I am never ceased to be dazzled and amazed on a daily basis here in Belize. Dazzled by the extra dose of optic stimulation consisting of stunning contrasts in hues. It occurs in nature all around me at all times, and it occurs by human hands daily as well, perhaps inspired by natures infinite palette. It occurs in the personalities here as well. I can't help think that it becomes cause and effect that is self perpetuating. What ever the reason for this colorful cornucopia here in Belize, and the Caribbean, I love it.
In fact, I was born to participate in a colorful scheme of life, and this of course bleeds into my kitchen and the resulting creations that emerge from my culinary playground. Even a simple medley of vegetables becomes a kaleidoscope of color. I seek out the red, yellows and green peppers from the veggie stand. I prefer the smaller locally grown thin skinned peppers that sometimes come in half green and half red with a bit of purple streaking through them. The larger varieties with thick and often bitter meat are available in perfect colors, the result of grafting for more volume per fruit, but are far less sweet than the un-grafted peppers. Add some zucchini and yellow squash, purple eggplant and white onion and the result is a visually stimulating Caribbean Vegetable Blend that is its own garnish.
And so it goes, surrounded by a
plethera of colors everyday from the
beautiful flowers to the colorful personalities
to the clothes and the food and the flora. It's
like Las Vegas without the electric bill.
Even the uderwater world of the reef is alive with colors.
The fish and the coral all echo the theme:
We are alive! Alive with Caribbean Color.
It says : Have fun. Be happy. Enjoy.
All of the ramifications that I would like to think my food exudes. Enjoy, have fun eating and cooking, be colorful, like the flowers and the birds. Like the Spanish and the Mayan and the Creole and the Garifuna......and like the Chef in Belize ...........You'd better Belize it!
Sunday, November 1, 2009
The result of the new beachfront smoker and wood grill, now complete with stainless steel lid, has sent my culinary imagination on fire (pun intended) in finding ways to infuse the smokey flavor of Craboo Wood into some of the dishes that come out of my main kitchen. One trip to the veggie market in Dangriga answered my own question. I bought abundant amounts of zucchini, Roma tomatoes, eggplant, white onions and sweet peppers, which I would cut into large enough chunks and grill them over the Craboo wood. First I marinated the veggies in olive oil, a splash of balsamic vinegar, lots of mashed garlic and a spoonful of Dijon. When the fire was ready, I grill the veggies, closing the lid for a few minutes to dampen the fire and let the wood smoke for a little while.
When the veggies are cooked, I can use them in lots of dishes. I finely dice a little and added to one of our side dishes, a cornmeal polenta and the result was an absolutely sublime creamy polenta with a hint of smoke and sweet peppers. It blended perfectly with the Romano cheese I add to it at the last moment. Now THAT'S Mediteribbean. Another use for these veggies is a great additive to some crispy sauteed vegetables for my vegetarian marinara. I'll add a few of the larger pieces after I've sauteed the other veggies and just when I add the marinara sauce. After a light tossing, the subtle smokey flavors add depth to the marinara that would be impossible to ascertain without the smokey vegetables. The uses for these veggies is endless, to using them actually as a spice blend to centering them on a piece of crostini made from our home made sourdough bread, drizzling olive oil over the top and a little shaved Parmesan. I put into a hot oven, and in a few minutes have a great appetizer or salad accompaniment.
The grill is not just for vegetables, mind you , It's versatility lend to the slow Jerk smoking we do with our pork tenderloins and whole chickens. We serve the slow smoked pork tenderloins, which have been rubbed with my own jerk spice blend, over a bed of spicy Cuban black beans after it has been basted with my homemade honey jerk BBQ sauce, to which I have added ground smoked habenero peppers. The smoked chickens are used as an entree and as a topping for our BBQ chicken pizza. This pizza uses our BBQ sauce as the sauce and is finished in the end with crumbled Gorgonzola cheese. The smokey chicken also in nice in pasta, like sweet Italian sausage and smoked chicken Alfredo. The shining star of the grill will come every Friday night, while we simplify our menu and offer Lobster, Shrimp and Fish as well as steak, cooked to order on the wood grill. We make a fabulous basting sauce by melting butter and adding an equal amount of our BBQ sauce, chopped pineapples and a plethora of ground peppers. The simple flavors of the grill take care of everything, the rib steaks are rubbed and basted with garlic oil. The upper rack of the grill will keep roasted corn on the cob hot and the resulting plate can only be described as....well....Mediteribbean. One thing I am anxious to try, will be a wood grilled pizza, I'll have my camera ready and report on that in my next blog, but I think I can place it on a kamal on the rack, then transfer directly to the rack after a generous basting of olive oil.
As menu planning goes with me, that is just a small sample of the actual new menu. Other items of course feature lots of fresh fish, like pesto baked grouper or Seafood marinara. Fillet Oscar Mediteribbean are medallions of beef tenderloin, pan seared and topped with diced lobster meat, hearts of palm and a Bearnaise sauce, served with pesto potatoes. Shrimp scampi has been a mainstay on my menus for my entire 30 year cooking career, but the availability of the fresh shrimp from the many shrimp farms around make it a must. We also prepare a Lobster Tail Scampi appetizer for two, featuring a butterflied lobster tail sauteed in olive oil, lemon, wine and garlic, the signature scampi sauce of generations. It is also enhanced by a fresh herb lend I chop nightly consisting of herbs from my upstairs container garden which is on the "back" of the building, sheltered from the wind driven salt air that can burn delicate little herbs. I find the oregano does well anywhere, and imagine clumps of it coming out of scraggly rocks overhanging the Mediterranean sea on precarious cliffs. Its tough. The basil, once established does well as does a variety of thyme here. The 3 herbs make for a great blend and add the extra freshness whether added to a dish while cooking or sprinkled over the top of a pizza or pasta.
To round out the Mediteribbean menu, I've selected a center cut of boneless pork loin to star as the main attraction in Pork Loin Picatta. After cutting about three-quarter inch thick medallions, I pound out the cutlets, dredge in a seasoned flour and saute in olive oil with white wine, capers, garlic and lemon. Served with pasta with roasted vegetables and topped with a blend of Parmesan and Romano cheeses. Keeping in mind that this is of course just the base menu and that 3-6 features of the day are usually added at the 11th hour as fishermen return or my ADD personality sees a breadfruit and ..... God forbid..... I go off on a Breadfruit tangent, or some similar such circumstance that pretty much describes my culinary career. Indeed, I can get very excited about a simple edible morsel and my imagination can take just about any ingredient and make it center stage for an evening or 2. "Its what defines a passion," I tell my wife, after waking her at 3am to tell her my latest food preparation fantasy.
"It defines something!" she mumbled as she rolled over and went back to sleep.
Angela too, has been refining recipes for her ever changing dessert menu. Chocolate is always the favorite and she brought lots of specialty items for her desserts back with her from the states. It will be interesting to see what she comes up with in her secret labratory with all those measuring spoons and other items I try never to use.
For now....You'd Better Belize it.... and now you're hungry too!
Monday, October 12, 2009
And finally, Ruger the super dog continues to patrol the beach picking up all plastic bottles and becoming a leaping eco-cause beach dog. You can see his exploits below....
Thursday, September 24, 2009
Saturday, June 13, 2009
The hammocks always have a nice breeze
Dangriga, to most first time visitors, seems gritty and intimidating, and indeed remains that way in the minds of many expats with years of living in an evolving 3rd world country. Well it is a little gritty, but scratch that grit and you will reveal a place steeped in culture. Gritty culture I guess, but full of the same life and emotions and cultural intermingling as any town of that size.
A few people will ask for a dollar, usually with a story of a sick baby, but they are not aggressive.
The guys near the river by the Chinese grocery, The Price is Right, offer to wash your car with the saltwater from the river for $5, and if you look the part, you may be offered a bag of weed, but that is nothing different than any Central American town that size, or any tourist driven location for that matter.
The Dangriga area, and the entire Stann Creek District, was settled by the Garifuna, and many of the descendants of those settlers, are still everywhere. Most remember life without electricity and when they made their living from the sea. Most still speak , or at least understand the language, which is African based. My staff has been teaching me some and I have been trying to learn a new phrase or two every week. I have known how to say good morning, good afternoon and good night for some time now, but the presence at the open air market in Dangriga of some nicely traditionally dressed older women who are perusing the various booths for their daily supply of cassava, plantains and sweet potatoes. The traditional Garifuna women are usually of a larger frame, walk with pride and dignity, usually wear a dress with a matching sun hat, and banter with each other robustly. These were my targets for my new greeting,k "Good morning beautiful ladies." I had practiced it for 2 weeks and actually chickened out last week. In Hopkins I am known by all. Many know I am trying to learn the language a little and forgive small mispronunciations and indeed, help to teach by correcting me or leading me into areas of language that they know I am familiar. But this, this is Dangriga, I am recognized, but not known.
I seized my opportunity when two ladies were arguing with a Spanish gentleman about his price for sweet potatoes. They would ask him how much, then in Garifuna, converse with each other into what I took to mean, from the words I recognized, that his price was less yesterday.
Having mastered a phrase that would fit wonderfully into their conversation, and aware of the shock effect of a white guy speaking Garifuna, or trying, I interrupted politely: " Aye, Abba cate ugaine, Amu cate haruga." Yes, one thing today and another thing tomorrow."
True to form, a quick moment of complete silence and an exchange of quick glances brought forth robust laughter and conversation in Garifuna with each other that of course was totally incomprehensible to me.
Calmly I smiled, "Aye," (yes) usually a yes in agreement works, but I knew I was seriously out f my league, but here it went anyway as I slowly walked away..................................
Buiti Banaafi he-eru beut.... Good morning beautiful ladies.
Exit stage right to the gleeful sounds of laughter and a beautiful language.....You'd Better Belize it.One of The Beautiful ladies in Dangriga
Monday, May 4, 2009
When we first came down to Belize 3 years ago, we brought our dog of , then, 11 years, Sugar. She was a beautiful German Short hair Pointer that we owned in Alaska since she was 8 weeks old. The Alaskan winters were harder on her than us and her joints were always stiff and she was dangerously lethargic in winters now, barely going off our generous porch to do her business at 40 below zero. She had a wonderful life, never knowing confinement and having a the clear cool waters of the Upper Chena River in her front yard. The move down to Belize proved to be a great one as she was rejuvenated and often swam in the water for hours at a time and plenty of birds, crabs and other crawlies to chase. I think most of all, she loved the fact that I never left her for 12 hours at a time as was the case with our busy restaurant in Alaska,. and she was free to follow me around all day until I had to go to the kitchen to work at about 3 pm every day at which time she would dutifully go upstairs where we reside and take up her place on the love seat. Not a bad life. Indeed she became quite the schmoozer of the beach as wandering tourists ogled over her, missing their own pets. Our guestbook makes just as much reference to Sugar as to the hospitality and food that has become our trademark. Alas, last summer, she had a seizure and we put her to sleep where she can swim in the fluffy clouds for eternity.
Fast forward to February 2009 when Angela and I knew we would stay down here for the season I began thinking about getting another dog. I had had German Shorthair Pointers my whole life, hunting them some, but mostly as family pets and I wanted another. I really didn't want to spend the nearly $1000 US to purchase one from the States, but had my mind set on a GSP. I went online to some of the more Northern Breeders (remember, it is February there) and basically offered a 5 night stay with a fishing trip to any breeder willing to trade me a puppy. Low and Behold a breeder from Minnesota (that's where the February thing fits in.said he had a 3 week old male that he would do the trade and would wait until next March to come down and do his trip and he would send the puppy when he was 12 weeks old. We are expecting shipping on the puppy this May 18th and are very excited as for the first time in my life, I will have the time to work with a dog.
The owner is also a trainer of hunting dogs so he started him and asked if we had a name for him as they were just calling him Belize. After exchanging a few pictures and seeing him as a little pistol, we opted for the name Ruger and he is a cutie.
I have no doubt that Ruger will equally "own" the visitors on the beach and will soon learn the ways of "Schmoozing" That Sugar was so good at.
That's all for now, I see a boat pulling up to the dock and I know that the morning fisherman is returning....You'd better Belize it!
Sunday, March 29, 2009
To observe the ritual in which my fresh catch is brought from sea to table is gratifying, we were all linked here not just to make a living, but to savor life. It made me feel just about as close to the food I serve as possible, until a recent trip to Dangriga to drop off some guests at the airport.
That's when another link in our intertwined lives near the sea revealed itself. When driving into town, over the 1st bridge, I looked up the river to see a gentleman, Mr. Fred Martinez, sitting in a partialy built dugout patiently chiseling the log which would later become the dugout. Another step in the process of catching fish, as the Garifuna have done for years. I will return to talk to Mr. Martinez as he was just one of those people I am drawn to. I asked him if I could photograph him and how long it took to build a large dugout like the one on which he was working.
He said yes I could take his picture if he could get a print to which I agreed readily.
How long would he be there working on the canoe?
About a month, and I'll be back. I printed him a copy and returned the next day to find Fred off at lunch somewhere, his chisel lay idle in the bottom of the canoe. I just stood there awhile, thinking of the canoe the old man had paddled out in the previous morning and thought about the lines that would lay in the bottom of this working boat, palmetto leaves and cast net at the ready. I must have been a sight to the Dangriga locals as I stood looking at a transformation ..from log to boat.....but I felt lucky to witness what is sure to become a dying art.
Since I had laminated the 8 X 10 glossy for him, I left it under his chisel and departed without seeing him, but I know he will be happy with his photo and I'll be back to take more.......You'd better Belize It!
Thursday, March 5, 2009
Yin and Yang
My Belizean Home in Winter
My Alaskan Home in Winter
One of the bonuses of owning a little beachfront resort and offering all the excursions to the reef, river and jungle is that I personally sample each tour before I will send anyone on the trip. I began to customize trips, some that only I offer.
One of these such trips, The Sittee River night tour, utilizesthe guiding talents of Udell, who grew up on the river and likes nothing more than showing off the glories of the Sittee River at night.
He loves to snatch an iguana or baby croc from the water to show participants the beautiful changing colors of the reptiles. He then cruises through a small cut in the mangroves used by cane farmers for more than a century to Anderson Lagoon. The lagoon is home to bioluminecent plankton and glows eerily when the water is disturbed. Udell will stomp the bottom of the boat to make fish dart, leaving a sparkling trail, reminding me of the Northern Lights of Alaska.
Another such trip I just have to try out often is a fishing trip to the reef.
I will usually pack a nice lunch like asian shrimp roll-ups. Sauted shrimp in sesame, honey and ginger sauce, chilled and mixed with shredded chinese cabbage and what ever crunchy veggies I might have like cho cho, celery and jicama. I never forget a cooler full of ice cold beverages to include Belikin, water and Pinot Grigio. One has to quench his thirst after battling a hefty Barracuda, grouper or kingfish.
We also have found some great narrow lagoons just to the south of us. We have found that if you leave before it gets light out, with a thermos of guatamalen coffee of course, and arrive at the lagoons(about a half an hour ride along the coast, that during the full moon phases, the Tarpon boil for about an hour. They quit just as suddenly, but for and hour, it's a tarpon hitting about every 3rd cast. The first time we went we werer seriously undergeared for these rambuncous fish and out of about 30 strikes, we landed zero. But i consider it one of the most exciting hours of fishing I have ever experienced.
Since we quit being open for lunch after our first year here, (we now only do gourmet boxed lunches for people going on tours) we get breakfast for our guests, then our days are free until early afternoon when we begin preparing for the evening meal. This allows for morning hikes to one of the many nearby Forest Reserves like Cockscomb Basin Jaguar Preserve ( Read Jaguar, by Alan Rabinowitz) or Mayflower Bocwina National Forest, both less than 10 miles away and offer many trails for wildlife viewing and of course the mandatory waterfall swim.
Both flora and fauna are so overly abundant on these hikes trhat one could take half an hour to walk 20 feet and still not take in all there is to see in the rainforest. Mayflower Bocawina is home to unexcavated Mayan Ruins as well and evidence can be found of worshiping sites, mounds of buried ruins and old trails that have existed for centuries. Indeed the Mayan population was more than 10 fold the current population of Belize.
Upon my return from a morning of activity, my appetite is usually whet for fabricating the special dishes that are in addition to my regular menu. Freshness is the key and I usually contact the fisherman who have fished from their dugouts early in the morning. After getting to know them, they know how I like my fish fileted and iced and have come to bring thier catch to me first as I offer them a little more than the going rate for quality fish, lobster and conch.
Then, the veggie man will drive up to see what fresh produce I might need for the next few days and i will peruse the back of his truck for pineapple, cilantro, lettuce and tomatoes. We make fresh salsa evry few days from the abundant produce that is brought down form the Cayo District by enterprising Belizeans who drive up early in the4 morning and briong down a truckload of beautiful produce. As a chef, the closeness to the food can't be beat, I am truly in my cooking euphoria here and have found an appreciative market.
We have made the decision to stay in Belize this entire summer in order to meet our residency requirements of staying in the country for a year with only a 2 week absence. We are both excited about it and hope that as the winter season comes to a close, tyhat the summer will leave a little more time to do some touring around Belize.
For now, Spring is in the air here in Belize and I think I might take the kayak around False Sittee Point with my flyrod and see if I can catch a few snook......You'd Better Belize It!