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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.

Chocolate for Halloween – Maybe it comes from Belize??

Posted: October 31, 2010
by: Mark Stine

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
by: Mark Stine

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
by: Mark Stine

We checked out the farmers market as our last event in Punta Gorda (PG to
locals in the know) and discovered a colorful array of fresh, locally
grown produce. They even had a unique " baby in a box" display, which I
guess was an easy way for mom to keep an eye on him and out of harm's way.


All of the vendors were friendly and in addition to the produce, some also
offered balls of dried cacao and coffee (hand picked and roasted) for
sale. I opted for the fresh coffee and planned on having some savory
strong coffee when I got back to Las Vegas. It was nice to interact with
the local residents and purchasing their locally grown products helps
their economy, a much better experience than some cloistered all inclusive
vacation where you gain no sense of the community.

Pictured Above: Zenovia


When I first flew into the Toledo area of southern Belize on Monday, it
looked like an isolated outpost along a coastal jungle frontier. This is
misleading- once you hit the ground and start exploring, you discover
there is a wonderful modern highway system that reaches all the way from
the capital in Belize City down to Punta Gorda. A drive in a rental car
taking only 4 hours to make the trip and plans are underway to even extend
the highway into neighboring Guatemala

Since our time had come to an end in Punta Gorda, we were about to get a
chance to check out the highway, as our group was headed up the coast
several hours by car to the beach resort community known as Placencia. A
scenic drive with mountains to the west, covered with lush jungle
vegetation made for an enjoyable ride, with guide Bruno (see blog # two )
suggesting a pit stop  for refreshments.

A new twist on bottled water in Belize is bottled coconut water. I had
been told to look  for fresh green coconuts with the top slashed off and a
straw so you could enjoy them fresh from the husk...but this was a new
twist. If you make it here..I suggest you try it! Since the whole purpose
of Taste of Belize is to try everything locally produced, embracing the
concept has brought some positive surprises. The coconut water is
light..refreshing with a unique flavor that is hard to describe. Lighter
tasting than coconut meat, it readily quenches thirst.

Wish our plastic bottles had been the real thing!

Just a little background on our traveling group...Morgan works for the PR
firm handling the Taste of Belize media /bloggers trip and is based in
Milwaukee, Larraine is with the Belize Tourism Bureau (BTB) living with
her family in Belize City and the other writer with our group is Julie,
who works for Matador magazine and has a fascinating history and
background of her own....which we will explore in another blog.

Bruno got us as far as the Robert Cove Inn in Placenia where we said our
goodbyes...with fond memories of Bruno's jaguar and " jumping viper" snake
stories. Best way to reach Bruno if you  make it to Belize and need a
talented and caring educator/ guide is through his web site at
www.suncreeklodge.com  You won't be disappointed, we certainly weren't. So
Bruno..danke schoen!

Definitely not Bohemian..The Inn at Robert's Gove is a comfortably deluxe
resort with three ocean front pools....two which are infinity
styled,along with a very welcoming staff. eased us into the beachy
atmosphere. Shortly after checking in we headed out for some Burgers
island style - with open sided dining and "suggestively named drinks"  As
if this wasn't enough we wondered down through the town and found an ice
cream shop and along the way Morgan got island fever (well actually more
like peninsula fever)and popped a hibiscus flower behind her ear.


Pictured Above: Morgan

Placencia is in a state of rapid growth...but we still managed to find
some simple yet colorful buildings to add to the island atmosphere.


On the way back, we explored another lodging opportunity - Turtle Inn -
Francis Ford Coppola Presents, part of the famous movie director's
expanding empire focused on wine, food and adventure!  The property was
stunning  and I have included a few shots to give you a taste of the
grounds. We had the good fortune to meet Serena - Vice President- resorts.
She gave us a tour of the property in addition to an arranged tasting with
the chef!


The tasting included signature cocktails  we sampled down on the beach
along with selected appetizers and entrees served in the open air dining
room. This was no simple tasting -it ended up being a rather elaborate
affair. There is so much to report about the unique offerings we
experienced, with fresh ingredients from the onsite private kitchen garden
and interview with the chef , that it will all be featured in an upcoming
blog when I get back from Belize. If you can't wait for the featured focus
on Turtle Inn - and the dining and resort delights, then here is the link
to this unique resort  in Placencia, Belize. http://www.coppolaresorts.com/turtleinn 


In fact, I will do selected features on Juli..who runs the chocolate shop
in Punta Gorda and Marian from Marian's Bayview restaurant also in PG.
Each of these meetings provided fun background and history of the area
and I think they deserve the focus. So keep up with the travel blogs from
Belize and an ongoing series of stories starting next week as we get up
close and somewhat personal with the exciting people who contribute to
the unique tastes of Belize.

Look for some history over the next few days too...I hear that drumming
and hot peppers are in store. And the big news for me is Julie and I were
selected as "surprise guest judges" for Saturday's Taste of Belize Chef
showdown, where the top ten chef's in Belize compete for top honors...and
I am honored to be a part of it.

It's a jungle out there - A Taste of Belize - Day Two

Posted: October 13, 2010
by: Mark Stine

In spite of hurricane warnings for surrounding areas, the hurricane never
materialized and my belief in the weather service is now seriously
challenged. Not even a decent breeze greeted our little group when we met
for breakfast - just calm seas, clear skies and warm smiles. A continental
breakfast kicked off the morning at the Coral Inn, with tasty local fruit
and a very good strong coffee.


Out the door at 9: 00 AM as our trusty guide Bruno Kuppinger from IBTM
tours, met us with his van. Bruno is originally from Germany and has been
in Belize for over 15 years. How one wonders did he end up here, in a
country of 350,000 people? We wondered that too and so we asked
Bruno. His response was sobering, in that he had lost close friends who
did not get to fulfill their dreams and he looked at his own life and
decided he would see the world. He got as far as Belize. Hard to argue
with paradise -eh Bruno?  So with that gut decision he settled
in and now runs a guide and tourism business.

Bruno provides a wealth of knowledge on his tours and I gained a sense of
how rich the local flora and fauna is when he regaled us with tales of a
Jaguar that visited his farm. Let's just put it this way..Jaguar -10
..sheep -Zero.  The fun part was when he received permission to trap and
tranquilize the Jaguar and relocate her to another more Jaguar friendly
area.  The place suggested was a good 11 hour drive...can you imagine
driving with an unhappy jaguar for 11 hours in the back of your SUV?  He
couldn't either so he found a spot much closer and only endured a few
hours of snarling cat - needless to say his farm is more gardening
oriented now, but if you want to experience a  place with varied wildlife
in pristine settings, then southern Belize and the area around Punta Gorda
is for you.


We journeyed out from Punta Gorda into the hinterland of the Toledo area.
Passing the Caribbean sea on our right, we then veered inland and soon
found ourselves surrounded by jungle on all sides, great scenery and
surprising hills rising up the further we moved inland from the sea. Only
about thirteen miles on mostly well paved roads brought us to our

This trip is all about experiencing the Taste of Belize and as I blogged
yesterday, Belize is a magnificent blend of cultures and food styles. So
what was our agenda for the day? Well a local and well known Mayan farmer
was going to trek us into the jungle and we were going to sample some
local fare right in the natural habitat.

If you are old enough to remember Johnny Carson- then you might remember
an old geezer who would appear on his shows and talk about survival eating
in the wilderness. His name was Euell Gibbons and he always ended every
story with his classic line "many parts are edible". Well that is
what I learned from our next host, Eladio Pop, who owns "Agouti Cacao Farm". 

We pulled up next to a jungle trail and mysteriously a man caring a rather
large machete appeared on the side of the trail to greet us.  Machetes are
not something I am used to seeing, especially as long and sharp as
his but we were soon put at ease with his generous smile and warm
personality. He does jungle farming without traditional slash and burn
techniques, which depletes the soil within a few years, leaving a barren
landscape behind.


Pictured Above: Eladio Pop

Instead, Eladio spreads his plants and trees along a well tended jungle
path ( hence the machete which comes in handy for all sorts of exercises
along the trail)  and even gains help from the agouti, a local oversized
rodent that ends up spreading the seed from  the trees and plants it

Off we went - the jungle was surprisingly cool and soon we saw cacao
trees.. .with large ripening pods. Those with the darkest red color were
ready for harvest and we sampled some with the juice and milk still
surrounding them.


Pictured Above: Fresh Cacao

Later we ate fresh heart of palm...chopped and prepared in seconds with
that large machete and much better than the heart of palm you get in a
can! We also had heart of banana from inside the pseudo stem of true wild
bananas, which don't produce a banana as we are used to and instead the
inner core is eaten much like heart of palm. The machete came in handy
for preparing this item as well.


Pictured Above: Morgan, Bruno & Larraine

Several varieties of domesticated bananas were growing abundantly
alongside the trail and the flavors were much richer and more intense than
US store bought bananas forcibly ripened with ethanol at the grocery.
With over 30 acres of jungle gardens, Eladio plants without disturbing the
natural trees and vegetation. This is healthier for the plants as they are
less likely to be affected by disease and it keeps a natural balance to
the forest. Eladio was almost reverential in his respect for the land,
homage to his parents who had passed it on to him.  We also saw fresh
ginger and a plant with dark blue fuzzy berries that we sampled. It seemed
almost everything was edible or useable in some fashion; hence my
thoughts turning to Euell Gibbons.

It was amazing that we could have such variety of food all natural and
organic picked fresh during our jungle hike. Coconut trees also provide a
staple item, used with rice grown locally, all in all a very self
sustaining venture.

A hike up to the highest point on the property revealed panoramic views of
jungle laden hillsides with such intense greens, unlike my desert Las
Vegas vistas, where we were also treated with sampling some jungle grown
limes; a tart but refreshing break before we made our way down the trail
and back to the SUV.

The next stop on our trip was the highlight - a visit with Eladios family
where we participated in roasting freshly dried cacao beans, crushing
them and then grinding them up with a stone on the fire fueled griddle.


Roasting the cacao beans

Once this was done...the beans were tossed slightly in the air allowing
the husks to blow away, while the heavier beans fell back into the bowl.
Next came the grinding which produced a rich thick cacao paste.  Our group
of course was sampling cacao each step of the way.

Lastly, a quantity of cacao paste was mixed with warm water to provide a
natural chocolate drink.  A delicious lunch followed with spiced chicken,
spiced beans and rice with pumpkin squash, accompanied with freshly
squeezed citrus fruit. And lest I forget, we each participated in
fashioning homemade corn tortillas and roasting them on the outdoor


Pictured Above: Virginia- wife of Eladio and guide Bruno

The whole family participated  in some fashion and we made new friends.
Eladio has dreams to educate all who visit his farm and we hope to see
those dreams of his come true with his vision of ecotourism and low impact
sustenance farming. He has a warm and loving family and you sensed that
with each member you met.

We took many pictures, bought a few handmade items from his daughters and
then headed back towards Punta Gorda and the Coral Inn.   We made a few
more stops but the first part of the day was so fulfilling,I will leave
the rest of our adventures for another blog. Back at the Coral Inn...I hit
the deep and long lap pool situated oceanside, sipped a Belkin Belizean
beer (with the Mayan temple on the logo) and enjoyed the blue skies.  I
think A Taste of Belize applies to many aspects and not just the food!

A taste of Belize …the First day!

Posted: October 12, 2010
by: Mark Stine

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.
Landing just before dark, a good thing as the landing strip is not lighted, I was escorted to the waiting SUV and headed to the Coral House Inn.  Located on the highest point on the Belize coast, the Coral House Inn, the host hotel,  has a unique and colorful past. And you can learn a lot about its offerings and history by checking out their Coral House Inn website.
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.  
 Lastly, for desert, tofu ice cream. I tried the chocolate and my dining companion for the night Julie Schwietert Collazo, managing editor of Matador, the world’s largest independent travel magazine, www.matadornetwork.com ,  tried the peanut flavored ice cream. We sampled each other’s and it was like experiencing a Tofu ice cream Reese’s cup!
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!