Saturday, October 16, 2010

Touch Down in Belize Lobster Extravaganza

Excuses, excuses! I know....No Blog for 6 months!

Life really turns into a whirlwind when you make the decision to split your time between two far away places. We closed the Barracuda Bar and Grill at Beaches and Dreams Seafront Inn in late June, after having a week-long 40th birthday party for a California girl and her entourage of friends that filled up ourplace and spilled over to some of the other resorts nearby. The celebration was, much to my joy, centered around culinary theme nights, culminating in a 6 course wine dinner which was provided an impromtu intermezzo when a sudden storm blew in our outdoor dining area. The menu was matched with wines and began with a Lobster Bisque, Roasted Duck and apricot salad, seafood ravioli with sundried tomato pesto, mango sorbet and a 12 layer Lithuanian Torte.

The Inn remains open with breakfast all summer until our return in late September after working in a remote kitchen for firefighters in the Alaskan outback. This year, on the return trip to Belize, we decided to take a 2 week camping trip in an area I'd never really explored, the Northwestern US. We drove down the Washington and Oregon Coast into Northern California , then returned through the central portions of those states, staying mostly on 2nd class roads and hitting some phenominal fishing in Oregon.

This gives me an answer for the oft-asked question we get here at Beaches and Dreams- "Where do people that live here go for vacation?"

Of course our camping trip centered guessed it.....FOOD!

It's nice when you have a passion that you can indulge in daily, and still enjoy doing it ...and make a living out of it, and culinary pursuit is definitely mine. It's my heroin. If I don't cook for a few days, I can have crazy mood swings. The camping trip was started provisioning with kitchen essentials for our little rented van. Every night we built a fire and cooked over it, roasting peppers in our clamp grill and cooking portabellos stuffed with the roasted peppers and cheese. We bought fresh seafood in the little fishing towns along the coast and lunched in mom and pop diners serving fresh crab and oysters.
Fast forward now, back at our home in Belize for our usual pre-season maintenance rush. Painting the main building and completing the last of our room re-models, reseeding a current crop of basil, oregeno, thyme and dill as well as planting a new raised bed for baby lettuces like mesclun mix and getting stocked up to re-open the Barracuda Bar and Grill has kept us busy 16 hours a day since our return and the first of the seaswons guests are here, but we are ready.
We will now go into the operation mode, where life just skips along at a nice Belizean pace and my mornings are filled with buying fresh snapper filets and lobster tails and checking the local vegetable stand for jicama and tamarind.

Daily Hopkins life is full of things to do, most of which I love to do. Buying fresh ingredients for the nights specials board, serving great clientelle who are Foodies and then enjoying a glass of wine with them after dinner while we sit out on the new extended dock as the palm trees dance in the breeze ...and the ocean sings us her lulabye....I'll meet you at Beaches and Dreams.
You'd better Belize it!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Setting Back the Clock....and Moving Forward

For anyone who may not be aware, I am from Italian American decent. Both my parents arrived ont "The Boat" with thier parents as young children, making my siblings and I, 1st generation Italian -Americans. I was the youngest of six and my sister Annette recently sent me the following discertation which I relate to perfectly:

> The Italian Clan ~ > > I am sure for most second generation Italian American children who > grew up in the 40's, 50's & 60's there was a definite distinction > between us and them. We were Italians, everybody else, the Irish, the > Germans, the Polish, they were Americans. > > I was well into adulthood before I realized I was an > American. I had been born American and lived here all > my life, but Americans were people who ate peanut butter and jelly > sandwiches on mushy white bread. I had no animosity towards them, it's > just I thought ours was the better way with our bread man, egg man, > vegetable man, the chicken > man, to name a few of the peddlers who came to our > neighborhoods. We knew them, they knew us. > > Americans went to the A&P. It amazed me that some > friends and classmates on Thanksgiving and Christmas ate > only turkey with stuffing, potatoes, and cranberry sauce. We had > turkey, but only after antipasti, soup, lasagna, meatballs and salad! > > In case someone came in who didn't like turkey, we also > had a roast of beef. Soon after we were eating fruits, nuts, pastries > and homemade cookies sprinkled with little colored things. This is > where you learned to eat a seven course meal between noon and four > PM, how to handle hot chest nuts and put peaches in wine. Italians > live a romance with food. Sundays we would wake up to the smell of > garlic and onions frying in olive oil. We always had macaroni and > sauce (gravy). > > Sunday would not be Sunday without going to Church. We knew when we got home we'd find meatballs frying, and > nothing tasted better than newly cooked meatballs with crisp bread > dipped into a pot of hot gravy (not sauce). > > > > Another difference between > them and us was we had gardens. Not just with flowers, but tomatoes, > peppers, basil, lettuce and 'cucuzza'. Everybody had a grapevine and > fig tree. In the fall we drank homemade wine arguing over who made the > best. Those gardens thrived because we had something our American > friends didn't seem to have. We had Grandparents. > > It's not that they didn't have grandparents. > It's just they didn't live in the same house > or street. We ate with our grandparents, and God forbid we didn't > visit them 3 times a week. I can still remember my grandfather telling > us how he came to America when he was young, on the 'boat.' > > I'll never forget the holidays when the relatives would gather at my > grandparents' house, the women in the kitchen, the men in the living > room, the kids everywhere. I must have fifty cousins. My grandfather > sat in the middle of it all drinking his wine he was so > proud of his family and how well they had done. > > When my grandparents died, things began to change. Family gatherings > were fewer and something seemed to be missing. Although we did get > together usually at my mother's house, I always had the feeling > grandma and grandpa were there. > > Its understandable things change. We all have families of > our own and grandchildren of our own. Today we visit once in a while > or meet at wakes or weddings. Other things have also changed. The old > house my grandparents bought is now covered with aluminum siding. A > green lawn covers the soil that grew the tomatoes. There was no one to > cover the fig tree, so it died. > > The holidays have changed. We still make family > 'rounds' but somehow things have become more formal. > The great quantities of food we consumed, without any ill effects, are > not good for us anymore. Too much starch, too much cholesterol, too > many calories in the pastries. The difference between 'us' and 'them' > isn't so easily defined anymore, and I guess that's good. > > My grandparents were Italian-Italians; my parents were > Italian-Americans. I'm an American and proud of it, just as my > grandparents would want me to be. We are all Americans now...the > Irish, Germans, Polish, all U.S. citizens. > > But somehow I still feel a little bit Italian. Call it > it roots...I'm not sure what it is. All I do know is that my children, > grandchildren, nieces, and nephews, have been cheated out of a > wonderful piece of our heritage. >

Now, here I am in Belize, and the clock has been set back. Abundant tomatoes grow in my own garden. A second story balcony in a more protected area grows my herbs such as basil, dill oregeno and mint.
Two times a week the pineapple and lime guy comes. He's the grower. Another truck arrives with Francesco, another vegetable salesman. He's not the grower, but he travels around and buys from local farmers and brings a variety of fresh produce. I talk with the farmers and let them know what I'll buy. Now there are a few more lettuce growers and instead of going for the giant zuchini for weight, I can get smaller more delicate ones. The very fisherman I buy my fish from now know how I like my filets and actually what type of filets I like and we are on a first name basis. The Country Foods truck brings local eggs, of which all are fresh brown eggs (white eggs are illegal to sell here) and dried beans and flour produced in Spanish Lookout by the Mennonites.

The Dairy truck comes once a week as well, with cream, milk and yogurt. To me it is as close to the food as a chef can be without being the farmer himself, (which wouldn't give one enough time to be a chef). A local farm not 5 miles away now has a meat processing plant and I can go to the butcher himself and again give him my specifications on various cuts of Beef and Pork.

Another farm on the Hopkins road is now raising quality ducks, quail, lamb and Guinea Fowl and one only has to pick up the phone and order for a next day pick-up.
When a few of the fisherman go out to Glovers Reef, they know to bring me my Tuna and Wahoo whole, as I like to cut the filets myself and the palagics keep better that way after proper bleeding, perfect for a rare seared Albacore Tuna over spicy Bok Choi with ginger lime reduction sauce.
All in all, maybe its not the days of yesteryear for most people in the States, but here , the clock has been set back to a more direct interaction between chef and suppliers, and as a first generation Italian American- Belizean, I can only sit back in the evenings when the cool tradewinds blow and reflect on anther Culinary day of buying and cooking and sharing and enjoying and think that this is the way it should always be....close to the things that sustain us.........Belize it or not, its a step back in time, and in my opinion, a step in the right direction!