Thursday, September 24, 2009

To Alaska and Back in Belize

After not planning on returning to Alaska for a full year and quite enjoying the slower pace of June and July in Hopkins we were able to gain our permanent residence status in Mid-July followed by phone call from a friend who was running the Fairbanks kitchen for Alaska Fire fighters asking if I could come and help out with an extremely busy fire season.

July 26th saw us landing in Fairbanks once again for an 8 week stint back at the cabin on the Upper Chena River in Two Rivers, Alaska. Both Angela and I went to work immediately in the kitchen for 2 back to back stints of 7/12 hour days for 21 days straight. Needless to say, our time there went quickly, and a day before the first snowflake fell on September 21st, we made our return.

My trip there was a personal revelation, as I found myself missing Belize after the first few weeks and, for another revelation, for the first time, we said we were going home.

And home it is, and its great to be back. We awoke the first morning with still a little jet lag from a too long flight, but to the usual fabulous sunrise as I took it in from my upper deck with some fresh ground Guatemalan coffee. I was happy to see that my basil, papaya, lemon grass and peppers took good care of themselves when I was gone, do mostly to a great summer cycle of night rain followed by breezy semi-cloudy days and it almost a necessity to process a large batch of pesto immediately. Though I was in a kitchen in Fairbanks, I was mostly feeding larger quantities of people so my overactive culinary imagination had been vicariously running rampant in Belize a month before I actually came back down. We won't officially open the restaurant to the public until mid-October,though lucky guests of Beaches and Dreams will have

our undivided culinary attention should they so desire.

The villagers have made note of our return and the fisherman and lobster divers hail as we pass through Hopkins. They yell that they will be down with their catches and the different vendors of vegetables also know to begin stopping by again. I phoned the restaurant staff, who all can't wait to get back to work. Kendra, my associate in the kitchen, has been with me since my first season, her teaching me about some of the traditional foods and taking great pleasure learning creative ways to prepare them. Indeed, only for the first few weeks of her employ did she think that the way she grew up with and learned to cook things like breadfruit and jicama and calilou was certainly not the only way to do things.

Last year we discovered a giant patch of wild calilou growing on our Sittee River property and my Belizean friends showed me this great green which I liken to a cross between spinach and beet greens.

After buying last seasons lobsters in quantity on the opening day of lobster season, I featured a plethora of lobster dishes including lobster bisque. When I returned to the restaurant with my new found booty of calilou, I decided to saute a little bit of it and added it to my bisque, which was still on the thick side as I add sherry at the last minute when serving. I blended the sauteed Calilou in with the lobster bisque and topped it with a little mozzarella and baked the entirety until golden on the top. Some fresh chopped parsley and Parmesan finished the dish which is served with pieces of pesto focaccia for a fabulous lobster fondue. Indeed, when I ask Kendra about the uses of a new found vegetable or fruit she responds, "Why are you even asking me how we prepare that, you will do what you want anyway!" True as that may be, I still usually start with finding out the traditional uses of things, as many times this is a starting point to find out if things may be starchy or sour and how the traditional preparations may change the palatability of these foods.
After being in Alaska for the last 8 weeks, I was glad to return to an abundant crop of basis and oregano and find out that my long nursing of the mint plant had payed off and I now had a healthy crop of mint established. I am ready this morning to make a batch of pesto. I'll make 3 kinds. Standard , sun dried tomato and a multi herb pesto with thyme, oregano , but still mostly basil. This I use for many seasonings and pasta dishes. It never ceases to amaze me how fresh herbs change a dish, especially when you are dealing with the fresh seafood I find in Belize.
On other news from Hopkins.........
Ruger, the new puppy, grew by leaps and bounds since I left and has learned to jump, no make that leap, off the dock into the water to retrieve. If you look back in this blog history and see the little puppy picture of him jumping like super dog, he has materialized into an adult version of this. I'll shoot some photos and put it in my next post.
For now, our first guest of season is here and has just taken in a splendid sunrise and I see he is having coffee on the dock, watching the fisherman catch his dinner.
We opened the restaurant with a limited menu last night and I sold out of my curried lamb stew, fresh lobsters and some cobia fillets so I am off in search of today's fare......You'd better Belize it!

1 comment:

Wilma said...

Great to see you back, Tony. I hope we can stop in at your restaurant when get back down to our place (just north of Monkey River) this winter. Isn't calyloo great?!