Sunday, June 8, 2008
I recently returned from a trip to Central America. As you may have guessed, I had an extraordinary time! Many of the pictures I took are food related (of course) and I will be writing a number of blog entries over the next several months, detailing the food highlights of the trip as well as some of the glorious experiences I had.
I met a huge amount of amazing people from all the world; Germany, Canada, Japan, Australia, Israel, Argentina, Holland, New Zealand, and Denmark, to name (not) just a few. It was interesting to watch the reactions of each person when they found out what I do for a living.
One of the best experiences I had while there was traveling to a cave called, "Actun Tunichil Muknal" or, the ATM caves (read the travel-guide explanation below).
"This is the acclaimed 'Cave of the Crystal Maiden,' featured in National Geographic Magazine and quickly becoming Belize’s most popular underground experience. This cave is for fit and active people who do not mind getting wet and muddy—and who are able to tread lightly! After the initial 45-minute hike to the entrance (with three river fords) and a swim into the cave’s innards, you will be asked to remove your shoes upon climbing up the limestone into the main cathedral-like chambers. The rooms are littered with delicate Maya pottery and the crystallized remains of 14 humans. There are no pathways, fences, glass, or other partitions separating the visitor from the artifacts. Nor are there any installed lights. The only infrastructure is a rickety ladder leading up to the chamber of the Crystal Maiden herself, a full female skeleton that sparkles with calcite under your headlamp’s glare..." from the Moon Travel Series Guide
As we traveled through the jungle to get to the entrance of the cave, we passed a number of cacao trees. I've noticed that many people have a difficult time pronouncing cacao. It's pronounced, "cuck-ow" with the emphasis on the "ow". The pods are a beautiful violet color and hang from the long extended branches of their trees or on the upper trunk itself. These cacao pods are full of a white pith which holds the cacao (or cocoa) beans. In our kitchen we use cacao nibs which are the bean broken into pieces.
Julia has created the greatest recipe for raw vegan chocolate chip cookies and she uses the nibs as chocolate chips. They are very bitter, but when mixed with agave and other ingredients, they are palatable and satisfying.
Here are some other ways I use cacao nibs:
~sprinkled on healthy chocolate pudding
~sprinkled on salads with a sweet dressing like Lime Agave Dressing and pecans (soak the nibs first to soften them up)
~in granola or energy bars (good source of energy)
~ground up in smoothies (try 3 cups of almond milk or 1 cup of almonds and 2 c water, 3 T. cacao nibs, 2 frozen bananas and agave to taste)
Our guide's name is Carlos and as a true Belizean, he knew and respected the caves like only a local can. He has a great sense of humor, too. Here he is, holding me for ransom. If you're planning a trip to Belize soon, you must go to the ATM caves. Ask for Carlos. He's very talented with a machete.