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Welcome to delicious Destinations, a GourmetStation blog. Through the charater of T.Alexander and occasional real-life guests, our aim is to share with you light-hearted fun ideas about food, gift giving, entertaining and culture. At the same time we would love you hear from you. Please share your experiences from home or abroad.
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Chocolate for Halloween – Maybe it comes from Belize??
Posted: October 31, 2010
On this Halloween weekend, where many people will be handing out chocolate to trick- or- treaters or indulging at Halloween parties with Chocolate martinis, it is fun to reflect back on the my recent trip to Belize and the opportunity to see chocolate being made first hand.
In a prior blog on the Mayan home-stay near Punta Gorda, Belize, I was fortunate enough to see the original way the local Mayans harvested, roasted and made the cacao paste from which they made their chocolate drink.
A colorful mural greets you at Cotton Tree Chocolate
Another option, using more automated techniques was observed at the Cotton Tree Chocolate company in Punta Gorda. Located at # 2 Front St, right along the bay. We stopped in one afternoon and met with the Manager, Juli Puryear, who took us through each step of the chocolate making process.
Manager Juli Puryear – what a great job!!
Cotton Tree Chocolate “ proudly provides free daily tours of the factory where you get to view chocolate and cocoa butter being made with lots of tasting included!” and that was true...after the tour Juli was very generous with chocolate sampling….including the ones filled with rum.
Juli took us through the process of roasting, which is used with modern electric toasting ovens as well as the grinding and separation process. This was fun as she actually used a hair dryer to blow off the lighter weight roasted shells, leaving behind the cacao.
The electric grinders rapidly produced a nice thick paste and then we were shown the tempering room, where the “chocolate takes a vacation” so to speak.
They produce a variety of chocolate styles and use very colorful packaging. Another exciting thing about the production at Cotton Tree Chocolate is that they are a true product of Belize.
Juli works with local farmers and produces small batches of chocolate from each local grower.
“We work with local farmers towards environmental, economic, and social sustainability. We exclusively use cocoa beans grown by our neighbors from the Mayan villages surrounding our Moho River location at Cotton Tree Lodge in the Toledo District of Belize,” noted Juli
For eco-tourists I think this is noteworthy. It takes an indigenous product, a company that works with local growers and produces a noteworthy product that is enjoyed by many. And that enjoyment is doubled knowing there is a natural process to it all.
Take a look at the Cotton Tree Chocolate web site…Juli and her team work hard to make people happy and you would make her happy by learning more about them and how they do it.
For local tour information you can reach them at 621-8778 (Belize- Punta Gorda)
For additional excitement check out Cotton Tree Lodge which offers a unique eco experience with a boat ride to the lodge from the Punta Gorda landing strip, riverfront cabanas on the Moho river and an array of adventure activities.
To make the cacao growing process even more productive, the Toledo Cacao Growers Association was created in 1984 to help local growers in a number of ways. We met with Armando Choco, General Manager of the Association who gave us more background on its inception. “ The aim of the organization is to improve the quality and socio-economic living standards of the membership. It provides a method of solidarity and communication on competitive and diversified methods of growing and production. As an added benefit, it is done in ways that are sustainable and work with the local environment.”
Armando Choco, General Manager of the Toledo Cacao Growers Association
We learned there are more than 1100 subsistence farmers in the Toledo and adjacent regions working in cacao production and over 47 tons of cacao are produced locally and annually, bringing true organization to the local growers and their pursuit of economic and environmental sustainability. In today’s multi-national corporate world of global reach, it is comforting to know that locals can benefit in producing a product the entire world enjoys.
I am not sure how they celebrate Halloween in Belize…that will require another trip back …but I do know if they do… the local trick or treaters are in for some great Belizean chocolate!
Belizean Back Country - In search of a Taste of Cassava - hot peppers and a bit of history
Posted: October 20, 2010
After arriving in Dangriga, a small coastal town north of Punta Gorda, our group headed out into the back country to learn about cassava, a staple food grown around the tropical world.
This was a commercial production facility, but on a personal Belizean scale. The Sabal facility grows the cassava, which is a root based product, from small tree-like bushes. We received a demonstration from start to finish and the venture was such an interesting experience that I felt it would be fun to take you through it step by step, as it was historical and colorful.
The roots are harvested traditionally by hand, as only about 1,000 pounds of root are dug at a time, which is too small to employ large tractors. Once the roots are collected they are soaked and cleaned and the roots are then peeled by hand with a sharp knife. It was stressed very little was wasted in this process and pigs and goats are the beneficiaries of leftovers.
Because the root of cassava contains a small amount of naturally occurring cyanide, various techniques have been employed over the millennia to extract the toxin out through a soaking and press process. The Sabal facility has “updated” this and utilizes a press that is tightened and compresses all of the fluid out, taking the toxin with it.
What do you do with this liquid one wonders? Pigs and goats are no fonder of the liquid than we would be. Well, It was discovered that it makes a great ant poison and is poured on ant mounds to keep the aggressive insects out of the gardens. I think this is a perfect demonstration of utilizing every aspect of a manufacturing process.
The remaining product is then allowed to dry and put through a refining process to essentially make it as fine as regular baking flour. Cassava being a starch, lends its self well to baking and after refining it is ready for the next phase.
It was amazing to watch this low tech process operating off of a simple motor, produce well refined, light and fluffy cassava flour.
In this Belizean family business, the cassava is baked traditionally over a fire heated griddle. We watched a true artisan spread and nurture the product on the griddle and then when fully baked on one side, effortlessly flip the entire cassava bread in one flip. She repeated this numerous times and never once lost control. The experience reminded me of a skilled pizza maker who can twirl and toss pizza dough.
Once the cassava bread is baked thoroughly, so no moisture remains, it is allowed to cool and then packaged for delivery to local markets and hotels. It also makes a tasty chip with dip in addition to using as a larger flatbread.
Weighing and Packaging
You can also mix the cassava flour with water and make a thick beverage or porridge, seasoned with cinnamon and sugar. We each had a glass and truly were full.
Not to be outdone during the preparation and baking process, Ridley, a three year old accompanied us on each step and posed for pictures. He was cute as a button and provided much amusement.
Ridley steals the show
Next stop…a pepper processing plant. Marie Sharp’s is a well know manufacturer and processor of locally grown hot peppers and hot sauces. Due to carry- on luggage liquid restrictions, I was limited to buy the small less than 3 ounces bottles, but still managed to snag three small bottles for personal seasoning. I tried some of the sauce at a few local restaurants and it is a staple seasoning sauce at many locations.
That is the one thing about Belizean cuisine; it is flavorful and spicy, blending cultures and tropical spices. As imagined, the flavors ranged from mild to “Beware.” Marie Sharps’ also produces well know US brands under private label names.
Overall, the setting of the pepper plant was serene, with squat green pepper bushes located in the surrounding fields, with tropical jungle and hills as a backdrop. If you head to this part of Belize, check ahead and make sure you make it to Marie Sharps when you can tour the production facility and see peppers converted to amazing sauce sensations. (Located just outside Dangriga)
On the way back to the little town of Dangriga, we stopped for an historical perspective at the Garifuna Museum. The Garifuna people are an indigenous group that settled in the area in the 1820’s to 1830’s and are a cultural mix of Carib and Arawak Indians and African blacks who married and mixed cultures to form the Garifuna. They are extremely proud of their culture and as a historical group fought back against colonialists who wanted to enslave e and dominate them.
It is well worth your time to learn more about this particular group of Belizeans and their historical contributions as well as current culinary trends.
Lastly, one of our meals consisted of a true Garifuna dish, which was plantain and fish in a coconut based sauce. The fish was snapper, caught locally and always fresh each day. It is traditionally cooked with the head on, so those less exploratory- be advised!
Traditional Garifuna Dish
I have a good friend Luciana, who lives in Los Angeles and is originally from Belize. I called her before embarking on this trip and asked her what stood out from a cuisine perspective. She immediately mentioned coconut as a staple ingredient and also the sauce with the baked fish and rice. I can see why this remained strong in her memory, even though she moved away when she was nine. ( and gee Luciana that was only 10 years ago –right! Wink!!)
My Belizean friend from Los Angeles- Luciana
Anyway..make your own memories like Luciana did as a child…and head down to Belize!
Journey up the Coast - A Taste of Belize Takes to the Road
Posted: October 15, 2010
We checked out the farmers market as our last event in Punta Gorda (PG to
All of the vendors were friendly and in addition to the produce, some also
When I first flew into the Toledo area of southern Belize on Monday, it
Since our time had come to an end in Punta Gorda, we were about to get a
A new twist on bottled water in Belize is bottled coconut water. I had
Just a little background on our traveling group...Morgan works for the PR
Bruno got us as far as the Robert Cove Inn in Placenia where we said our
Definitely not Bohemian..The Inn at Robert's Gove is a comfortably deluxe
Pictured Above: Morgan
Placencia is in a state of rapid growth...but we still managed to find
On the way back, we explored another lodging opportunity - Turtle Inn -
The tasting included signature cocktails we sampled down on the beach
In fact, I will do selected features on Juli..who runs the chocolate shop
Look for some history over the next few days too...I hear that drumming
It's a jungle out there - A Taste of Belize - Day Two
Posted: October 13, 2010
In spite of hurricane warnings for surrounding areas, the hurricane never
Out the door at 9: 00 AM as our trusty guide Bruno Kuppinger from IBTM
This trip is all about experiencing the Taste of Belize and as I blogged
If you are old enough to remember Johnny Carson- then you might remember
We pulled up next to a jungle trail and mysteriously a man caring a rather
Pictured Above: Eladio Pop
Instead, Eladio spreads his plants and trees along a well tended jungle
Off we went - the jungle was surprisingly cool and soon we saw cacao
Pictured Above: Fresh Cacao
Later we ate fresh heart of palm...chopped and prepared in seconds with
Pictured Above: Morgan, Bruno & Larraine
Several varieties of domesticated bananas were growing abundantly
It was amazing that we could have such variety of food all natural and
A hike up to the highest point on the property revealed panoramic views of
The next stop on our trip was the highlight - a visit with Eladios family
Roasting the cacao beans
Once this was done...the beans were tossed slightly in the air allowing
Lastly, a quantity of cacao paste was mixed with warm water to provide a
Pictured Above: Virginia- wife of Eladio and guide Bruno
The whole family participated in some fashion and we made new friends.
We took many pictures, bought a few handmade items from his daughters and
A taste of Belize …the First day!
Posted: October 12, 2010
A wonderful opportunity presented itself to explore the culinary aspects of the country of Belize, so with luggage in hand, I was off to the airport. Any excuse to travel is a good one…but one associated with “exploring” the finer side of the cuisine of a country I had not been to, was one that I couldn’t resist.
Writing for gourmetstation’s “ Delicious Destinations” has been fun over the years and when Donna (aka T. Alexander) approached me about this writing opportunity, I agreed that blogging day to day would be a great approach to keep everyone up to date on the flavors of Belize.
A former British colony that achieved independence in 1981, Belize is a modern day blend of cultures, reflecting itself best in the food and dishes prepared with local flavor. Mayan, Creole, Asian, British, former Confederates from the US, pirates, Spanish, Garifuna and a mix of others have all contributed to the Belize of today. English is the official language, making it easy on travelers from the States and Canada, but Spanish is also widely spoken close to the border of Mexico.
Belize is not a large country…on par with the state of New Hampshire in size and a national population of under 350,000, it reflects a myriad of cultures. Belize is also reaching out to the world with tourism outreach as far afield as Taiwan. Global tourism is the country’s greatest industry and with the unique diving opportunities on the large barrier reef just offshore, provides an excellent bohemian getaway or if you prefer upscale hotels and fantastic romantic interludes on resort islands just offshore.
The journey begins - Arriving in Houston after an early morning flight, I connected on a Continental flight nonstop to Belize city. I had the good fortune to be seated next to a Belizean couple returning from Oklahoma…and learned that my seatmate, Philip was a travel guide, specializing in interior trips with kayaking, Ziplining, eco tourism and touted the beauty of the highlands of Belize, reaching elevations close to 4,000 ft. It was great to gain insights so quickly into my trip and I appreciated the warmth and enthusiasm Phillip and his wife had for their country.
Once I landed in Belize and cleared customs, I continued south from Belize City on Tropic Air...making several stops along the way on a comfortable 20 seat single prop plane as we headed to the last port of call- Punta Gorda. Flying low, you really get some great views of the Mangrove swamps below, barrier islands in the distance as well as misty highlands as a backdrop on the mainland.
Rendezvousing at the bar located next to the pool, I was able to meet some locals as well as guests staying at the Coral Inn. More interesting stories were revealed about a Colonial mansion nearby, fallen into disrepair and now brought back to life as a farm/ranch and B&B. Darkness had already fallen and I had yet to see the views and exciting surroundings of the Coral Inn and here was another exciting opportunity to learn some more local history and flavor.
It had been a very long day, and with airline service being what it is today, I completely missed all meal opportunities during the day, so I was especially glad when the 7 PM dinner reservations rolled around. Punta Gorda is a very small relaxed place with only 5,000 people inhabiting the local area so I was very curious as to what was in store. In business since 1997, we were off to experience a Vegetarian restaurant…with a seafood twist. ..Gomier’s Restaurant.
A wonderful and affable man, Gomier seated us at an outdoor pavilion...lit the mosquito coil...the scent of incense drifted up around us on what locals called a cool evening. The air was humid but surprisingly cool. Gomier makes his own Tofu…explained the whole process to us…showed us the equipment in his little kitchen and let us shoot pictures of him at work. He is self taught…never repeats a recipe exactly the same and explained his colorful life that had ultimately brought him to Belize.
Reggae music wafted out from the kitchen to the dining pavilion as we dove into the appetizer course. The Tofu balls were mixed with oatmeal, seasonings and along with a tofu based conch fritter Gomier succeeded with his motto of keeping things basic and healthy….and tasty!
The entrees consisted of seasoned brown rice with blackened style fresh caught snapper and sautéed shrimp in a wonderful garlic flavored sauce.
A delicious taste treat from start to finish…honestly prepared and focused, as Gomier said….”to keep people healthy.” What more could you ask for on a first night in Belize?
A short cab ride back to the Coral Inn, a drink from the outdoor bar…and off to bed. A full and fulfilling first day in Belize . Stay tuned for day two. .. as we explore the area around the Coral Inn and check out the Cocoa trail and a tour of a local Mayan Homestay with the focus on traditional Maya foods. We even get the chance to help in making the meal!