Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Choco-Banana

It is actually Choco-Banano, as banana is a masculine word in Guatemala...and it is obvious why. It is a phenomenon that inundates every city and town in Guatemala.  
The best choco-banano's that we discovered were full-sized bananas which were taken from the freezer in the ice-cream store and dipped directly in the melted chocolate that sat on the counter in a crock-pot. The entire place oozed of the thick, intoxicating smell of chocolate. 

After the chocolate dip, they are immediately rolled around in peanuts. Delicious! Naughty!

The smaller, simpler versions were found in little tiendas (aka the front's of people's entry way that gets filled with as much as possible, such as one-use shampoo, chips, pencils, pork rinds, bags of beans, razors, ... and you guessed it, choco-bananos!) No nuts, less pure chocolate. Just as delicious!

This woman in traditional Chichicastenango clothing came upon us as we walked out of the market town of Chichi toward a nearby hike. We told her we loved Guatemala because of the choco-bananos. She smiled and agreed. Everybody loves the choco-banano! 

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Cooking in Guatemala

Cooking in Guatemala is easy and immensely enjoyable. 

Baking is almost impossible, so don't go expecting to roll out a new batch of cookies every week. If people have an oven, it is used to store dishes. 
Step #1: Go to the market. The market has more choices of fruits and vegetables than I've ever seen in one place. And they are truly fresh, most picked earlier that week or day, then brought in from the country-side. Choices, choices, choices. Cheap, cheap, cheap. All the food above I spend less than $8 buying!

Step #2: Go to the supermarket. Most Guatemalan cities have supermarkets where you can get most things. I love olive oil. I love being healthy when possible. Most Guatemalans cook with vegetable oil or lard. Lots of it. 

If you don't feel like slow cooking black beans you can buy them. In cans or bags. A small bag o' beans, a medium bag o' beans or a large bag o' beans. If you are a condiment user, you can also buy to your hearts lots of different sized bags. Don't forget about the hot dogs...for sale in mass quantities at both the market and the supermarket. 

Step #3: Cook! Yes, if you are not going to treat your raw veggies and fruits, but you are going to eat the skin, make sure to flash them in boiling water to kill any critters, bacteria, amoebas, or parasites that might be lurking on them. 

Step #4: Get daring. Try new things. (The above bowl is filled with small, intensely hot chilies that you buy in the market still in their husks). Talk to people at the markets. Ask them questions. Ask to try things. 

Ask your teachers or local friends to teach you how to cook a local dish...or two...or three. 
The above is a traditional soup that we made as a school activity. Served with tortillas, of course. 

Step #5: Enjoy!!!! Stray from the usual. Be creative with "usual" recipes or favorites. My friends Sarah, Monique and Robbie has Nacho Night at least three times a week. Mango salsas started evolving. Additions to the chips grew and grew.

If I would have continued living with a host family, I would not have been able to interact every other day with the sellers at the market. It enabled me to truly be a part of life in Xela. To be creative, to try new things, to ask new questions and to live like everyone else. Go shopping, bargain, cook, eat, be happy!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Summer at Stowe Pinnacle

It's important to visit the same trails and same peaks in multiple seasons. The last time I hiked Stowe Pinnacle was in the spring with snow covering everything. Snowshoes, layers, hats, gloves and sunglasses. 

Beautiful Jaime, her son Lucas and I made our way up this quick hike on a gorgeous, windy Sunday this summer. 
Everything was unrecognizable in comparison with the winter. 

It was a perfect summer day. We built up a good sweat, which made the snacks of cheese, blueberries and other Vermont summer nibbling's divine. 

But the truth: Lucas made the hike. He was nothing but smiles. People passed and started conversations with Jaime as Lucas engaged with his charming eyes and teeth of a smile. He was enjoying the ride as super-mom Jaime carried him up and down in her backpack carrier.

It was a perfect summer hike...a perfect summer day in Vermont.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A Man's Best Friend

True love, devotion, companionship...and not from a dog, but from a cat and to a cat.
This is a photo Dave took during a wedding down at the Burlington waterfront. The man on the bike with the cat is making quite a reputation for himself around town. We call him the "Catrider."

Makes you think...

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Bean - Part 2

From the tree to the cup, the bean's presence in everyday life...everywhere around the omnipotent.
And if it's raining in Antigua, Guatemala, you have a limited budget, and you are going stir crazy in you hostel, what better way to spend the afternoon but in a super moderno cafe on Parque Central. 

Cafe Barista is a hip chain of high-end coffee shops in Guatemala. Not necessarily because their prices are extraordinarily high, but because the quality of their service is unwavering and the caliber of their beans stand alone. Oh, and the interior decor is quite modern/post-modern. 

Yes, it is true that one cup of coffee costs 3-4 Quetzales (about 40 cents) more than other places, but nowhere else has a French press for two, which gives you more and better coffee than any other cafe in town. And because it's large and shared, the price is actually as cheap as the cheapest.  Oh, how I love the French press!

So yes, what do you do when it's raining in Antigua and you are on a budget? Head to the coffee shop to sip on some delicious Guatemalan beans and have good conversation...until which you hit a point that all the caffeine rushing through your veins MAKE you walk joyously through the streets in the crooked rain.  


Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Bean - Part 1

The power of the bean. 
The coffee bean, that is. 

In the mountains between the highlands of Guatemala and the hot, dry coast, coffee plants thrive. To make sure these plants don't get too much sun, palm and banana trees have been planted systematically within the crops to dapple shade on the coffee below throughout the day. 

Considering coffee has been around since the 13th century, you can imagine the wealth associated with exporting the prized Guatemalan beans. 

The majority of coffee plantations are owned by one of the 30 wealthy families in Guatemala that control...well, pretty much everything. And if the owners aren't one of the families, they are foreigners, like this plantation we visited. 

Italian owned and locally run, this massive plantation was not free-trade and during picking and processing season (September/October and/or January/February) dozens of families live together under one large roof and sleep on the floor. Their days are long, with every family member out in the fields picking...even the babies and children. And they get pennies a day for their labor. 

So, buy FAIR TRADE when possible. It makes a difference. 
The caffeine capsule. Small and powerful.  

My one word of advice. If it's not coffee season, don't tour a finca (farm). It was hot and every aspect of the processing center was closed down. The green coffee beans were durable and confidently growing on their stems.

I'm looking forward to seeing the varied shades of reds, oranges and yellows that the beans turn when they are mature and ready to pick. Next time...

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Tea & Cookies Antigua, Guatemala

Antigua is a hip, colonial, modern town. From clubs, to VIP lounges, to espresso houses and wine bars, Antigua, Guatemala has it all. They even have a cookie restaurants! 
What else are you going to do when it's raining out and you have a hankering for a little something sweet? Pick out a couple of cookies, order a tea, and do some dipping. 

From chocolate-macadamia to  oatmeal monsters the cookie shop has over 25 types of cookies from which to choose. They even have almond-butter cookies in the shapes of half-moons...the ones we used to make every Christmas with our Nana.  

At the cookie shop you can watch the bakers at work, or even request a certain type of cookie.

Sarah and I practiced our Spanish by reading one of the local newspapers, sipping tea and dipping cookies. 

Sometimes I wish it would rain more often so I could use that excuse for sitting and relaxing in a cookies shop with a cup of tea. It was lovely, to say the least.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Thinking Outside the Box

My niece reminds me to be silly, to run around the house dancing, to think outside of the box. It's good to be around little people. They remind us and help us to unteach what society has ingrained in us. How do we stop the cycle? Be silly and wear baskets on our heads. Dance to your favorite music. Laugh. 
When I was little I used to sit for hour and make mud pies. I don't remember the last time I played in the dirt. It's time. 
Thank you to all the little people in my life. And thank you to the adults who make it possible for those little people to be who they are.

Monday, August 9, 2010

A Perfect Day on Lake Champlain

There is a list for every season. A must do or must see. Summers in Vermont are short and this year because I was in Guatemala for half of it, it's shorter than normal. 

Summers are my favorite time of year. They have been my whole life. Don't get me wrong, there is a magic in every season. 
Go swimming, pick blueberries, see a concert in the park, have a picnic by the lake, go camping, hike Camel's Hump, Hike Mount Mansfield, find a new place to hike, bike to the causeway...these are most of the must do's for my summer list.  

Bike to the causeway became the topic of discussion as we enjoyed one of the various perfect days on Lake Champlain. And, we reminded ourselves that every time we bike to the causeway...the 25 mile round trip ride from our house, the last portion of the ride, the portion on the causeway, is...well, unpleasant. If there is no wind, it means that there are swarms of bugs different size and shape getting into your eyes, your hair (yes, through your helmet), and down your shirt. Oh, also into your mouth. I've eaten a few. If it is windy, the ride is a challenge that becomes tedious and unpleasant. Because the whole way you are riding to the end, you know that you are going to have to turn around and come back through the insane wind. 

Together, we decided that our ride with our friend Adam in his boat to the causeway meant we "rode to the causeway." No bugs. No insane wind to fight through...instead, the ride consisted of the best swim of the summer, good conversation, and relaxation.

Check. Off the list. It's good to stay open about things and think outside the box...and, if I end up out there on my bike, it will be in September once the bugs have gone home for the season.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Lake Monsters Baseball

Welcome to the Vermont Lake Monsters. Our minor league baseball team holds a special pride in the people of Vermont, especially of Burlington and the surrounding areas, the the stadium is the oldest or one of the oldest in the country. 
People come for the tradition. For the community. 
Dave played baseball in school. He has a certain respect for the skill that goes into each game. I come for the people watching, because I love Dave, and ... well, we both come for the beer and hot dogs. 
I had to include this photo. Note the blond, little girl that could have been me when I was young. The Lake Monsters games are certainly a family event...with cotton candy, snow cones and all. How much of the time are people watching the game? It's unclear. We left during the 7th inning after over two hours of slow play. 
If you build it, they will come. And come we did. We are counting down the days until the 25th when it is 25 cent hot dog night. We'll be eating dinner there:) We hope to see you there.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Birthday Thoughts

Wednesday, July 28th, I turned 31.
For my actual birthday, my boyfriend whisked me away to the north-country of discover new land and swim in new waters. We were where we were...the wind in our hair, without a specific destination. After a dip in some of the most crystal clear Vermont water, we came home to take a quick, full-speed bike ride in a rainstorm. It was a perfect day.

And, he put together an awesome bbq with delicious food and drink, yard games, friends, a pinata, and a bonfire with specialty marshmallows from Candy Kate's to put some sugar in our dreams. Thank you all who made my 31st memorable...a low-key welcome home to Vermont. It will go down in my record books! Check out more photos from the birthday bash on Dave's blog.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Being a Student

When my boyfriend said I never mentioned to him that I had homework as a student in Xela, I was offended. Why? Because, did I HAVE homework.

Here is a nut-shell of a day in the life of Miriam, the Spanish student in Xela, Guatemala:

I don't know why, but for the three months I was in Guatemala, I only slept past 5:30am a handful of times.
The mornings were by far my favorite time of the day for many reasons. Safety probably being the biggest. The birds, incredible sun, fresh air, and relaxing walks being the others.

So, 5:30 I was up...usually finishing homework, then blog posting while eating breakfast, then going for a walk on the way to school, which was from 8am-1pm. I generally wanted to eat my arm off by the time class was over while my ability to focus disappeared around 11am.  

Although my hunger dug at my, I generally headed to the gym after class while eating a small snack on the 15 minute walk.

By the way, the gym was new, the cleanest place I've ever been to and had state of the art equipment. The third floor was a huge, wood-floor class area. It also had a fourth floor loft area with a smoothie and snack restaurant. 
After the gym, I cooked lunch at home, showered (yes, in that order), then headed out to some coffee shop to study and try to cram more vocab and conjugations into my brain. I generally had one to two hours of homework a night, never mind actually studying.

Language immersion is exhausting. I went from drinking no coffee, to three cups a day. I was shoving over so much in my brain to fit in the new language that when I did speak English it came out grammatically incorrect and sloppy. It was a process of letting go and staying open. 

I have never done so much walking in my everyday life...and besides the time it was raining side-ways, I loved it. It's the kind of life I could get used to.