Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Dinner Party for Good Friends

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Linda and I (mostly Linda) prepared a dining experience to share with good friends I met during the time I lived here two years ago - Sharon and John, from Los Gatos California, both retired professors at San Jose State University.  They own a home here in Antigua and spend about 6 months a year here and the other six months traveling around the world.  They'll be leaving in March for an extended stay in Australia.  The second couple are Ira and Carol, who live permanently here in Antigua.  Ira is from North Carolina, though he spent most of his working life in Central and South america.  Carol is a Guatemalteca who was born in Guatemala City, but raised all over the world, including many years in the United States.  I've visited Ira and Carol in their truly magnificent home in Antigua, filled with historical artwork and antiques that are irreplaceable.  It's much like visiting a museum that they live in and use everyday!

Linda and I came up with a menu and prepared everything before our guests arrived:  
*Guatemalan cream cheese topped with Linda's homemade chutney and served with delicious and crispy corn crackers sold in our one 'supermarket' in Antigua, Bodogona.
*Roast pork loin marinated in Argentinean chimichuri sauce
*Savory corn cakes, Venezuelan style, also accompanied by the beautifully green chimichurri sauce, originally from Argentina. Chimichurri Sauce.
* Glazed carrots with butter-brown sugar glaze
*Pan roasted zucchini with olive oil and balsamic flavoring
*Lemon meringue pie

Delicious dinner party serving board

The spectacular lemon meringue pie made by Linda

This is the garden courtyard in the middle of the 8-house complex
This is the house directly across from Linda's, owned by a doctor and
his family, who live in Guatemala City, coming to Antigua (about
30 miles) for weekends and holidays
This is a copula, seen on most homes above the kitchen

Chocolate Museum and Class

Monday February 9, 2015

This morning Linda and I joined friends, Sharon, Tracy, and Tracy's parents (visiting from Maryland) at the Chocolate Museum and Factory in Antigua to take a two-hour workshop on the history of chocolate and a chocolate making class.  I was excited about taking the class because during my whole time here a couple of years ago, I never did take it.  As is all of the history of this country, the story of chocolate, as we know it today, stems from the time of the Spanish conquest of Guatemala and their first introduction to chocolate, which was yet unknown to the European world. 

The indigenous people of Guatemala, the Maya, had many uses for the cacao tree and its harvest. One use for the beans located inside a large pod that develops off the trunk and branches of the tree is as currency.  Marisol, our guide and teacher, today indicated that in the 14th and 15th centuries, a Maya could purchase 6 tortillas for one cacao bean, for three beans a good amount of corn ready to grind for tortillas, etc. The cacao tree only grows in a band around the circumference of the globe from 17 degrees north of the Equator to 17 degrees south, where most of Earth's warmest and dampest climate is located; it cannot be grown anywhere else on Earth.

 Guatemala is known, not only for its cacao agriculture, but also for its chocolate production and candy making.  See  ChocoMuseo located in the heart of the city of Antigua.

Marisol starts the workshop by explaining exactly how we get
from the cacao bean to the finished chocolate.  I'll add
here that this young lady spoke English very well, a real bonus for
employment in Antigua.
Here Marisol shows us how the Maya grind the dried and roasted
cacao beans.  We actually each went through the process of drying and
roasting our own beans, after which we ground them with a mortar and
pestle - not an easy job.
Notice the beautiful floor in this building.  It's probably several
hundred years old! 
Marisa showed us how to cool and mix the
hot chocolate drink.  It's not as easy as it
looks to accomplish

Here's Linda mixing a chocolate drink
using a primitive wooden  stirring stick, the
name of which escapes me!
Then I had my turn.
It was a fun morning; at completion we had each made our own batch of chocolate candies.  We left them there in the refrigerator to cool and harden and picked them up later in the afternoon.  Believe it or not, they're delicious!

After the class, since we'd worked up quite an appetite, our group of six sauntered over to one of my favorite any-time restaurants, Sabe Rico (Delicious Flavor), for a lovely lunch out in the beautiful garden setting, complete with songbirds chirping away in cages hanging in the trees.

They have a wonderful delicatessen, gourmet groceries, chocolate shop and
bakery in addition to the restaurant
Gorgeous outdoor dining rooms
Even a hammock if one needs it after a meal!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Antigua Weekend and El Fuego

Sunday February 8, 2015

I'm at the completion of my first week in Antigua and am realizing how much I've missed it.  Oh, yes, it's not quite as comfortable as the US.  The streets are cobblestone, there are lots of cracks in the sidewalks when there is a sidewalk to use.  But, oh how I love these people, the climate, the beauty!

Friday evening Linda and I had planned to go to the Children's Dinner.  It's part of a NGO (Non-Government Organization) program called Tess Unlimited, a charitable organization founded by a young woman from The Netherlands, Tessa De Goode de Ordoñez.  Who is Tessa?
We arrived at El Parque Central to be picked up by the shuttle to the dinner, which is done as a training program by Tessa's organization in order to teach children (ages 10-16) how to run a restaurant.  They learn how to buy food and supplies, cook and bake, serve tables, manage the operation including finances, and decorate and clean.  And, in addition, they learn enough English to prepare them to be employable when they go job hunting.

I spent a lot of time doing volunteer work when I was here last time, and hold Tessa and her volunteers from all over the world in high esteem.  However, when we arrived for the shuttle, we realized that the number of tourists wanting to experience the evening with the children outnumbered the number of reservations the foundation had received, so we gave up our seats.  It wasn't all bad!  We sauntered over to one of our favorite Antiguan restaurants, La Cazador Italiano (the Italian Hunter), a truly fabulous Italian restaurant, Guatemala style.  When my daughter-in-law and twin granddaughters visited me for 5 days when I lived here, we went to La Cazador two times; the food is that good!
Father and daughter shopping on
Friday afternoon.  Most Maya women and
girls still wear their traditional
clothing, different depending on which
pueblo one lives in
Maya ladies selling wares in the central park.  All community life
revolves around the park.  Every Friday evening there's a band
that plays for about three hours.

Linda and I with Luciano, owner of El Cazador Italianp

Saturday dawned beautifully and Linda had asked her good friend, Carmen, a lovely Guatemalan doctor who works as an administrator for the Peace Corps in Central America, to accompany us to lunch at a new hillside restaurant located outside Antigua in the pueblo of San Cristóbal.  We drove in Carmen's car (Linda doesn't have any desire to own and drive a car in Antigua) the short 20-minute ride to El Cerro de San Cristobal, the name of the restaurant.  

I'd planned to eat first, then walk around to take photos of this lovely eatery and location overlooking the valley below, including Antigua.  I was in for an interruption, or it may be better to say an eruption.  El Fuego, an active Guatemalan volcano, decided to let us know he's here!
View of the valley including Antigua from Cerro San Cristobal

Linda studying the menu in an outside dining room of El Cerro de
San Cristobal.  It's a beautiful location and buildings in the
traditional stone construction
Just about the same view from the restaurant a few minutes later
Clouds filled with ash

Ash on my pants

My partially finished quesadillas with ash!

All the diners abandoned their outdoor meals for
obvious reasons!

Car with significant request on windshield -
"Wash Me!"
Carmen letting folks know why her windshield is dirty!

El Fuego volcano has been almost continuously active for centuries. The "Volcano of Fire", some 3,763 meters (12,346 feet) high is famous for being almost constantly active at a low level. Steam and gas issue from its top daily, a larger eruption occurred in September 2012.  I was here for that eruption also; it was very impressive.

This is what El Fuego looks like almost
every day.  When I was first living in Antigua,
my bedroom window framed a perfect view of the
volcano.  I saw this nearly every morning
as I woke up!
September 2012.  Kari, my daughter, was visiting at the time.  It was
quite a memory-making experience!  El Fuego is located southwest of
Antigua about 15 miles.  Kari and I went to a restaurant to the west of El
Fuego during its several weeks of lava flow.

Finally I'll leave you with some more of Linda's beautiful house and artwork.

Lilies given to us by Carlos' family when they came
for dinner.  I've now had two Spanish lessons
and it's all coming back.

Wooden sculptures and a corner of an oil painting over
the fireplace

Sun streaming through the window this morning.  All of the yard
and house with its open construction is getting cleaned and dusted
today.  The ash is everywhere!

Remembering Why I Love Antigua

Friday February 6, 2015

I'm well settled in at Linda's beautiful house that's just south of the downtown area of Antigua (El Parque Central) about 8 or 9 blocks. She lives in a gated community, which often means mostly gringos live there; that's not true in Linda's community.  There are about 10 houses, owned by a few North Americans (USA and Canada), a couple of European households, and the rest are Guatemaltecos, some who live here all the time, and some who come from Guatemala City for the weekends and holidays.  As you would have noticed from the photos, each of the houses is its own compound within and compound.  There is a large park-like central area with shade trees, grass and lots of vegetation and flowers with all the walled compounds located around that central area.  The houses appear to be connected to one another, their exterior walls are.  But, none of the walls of the house proper are in any way connected to the external walls, so there's a lot of privacy and it's almost impossible to hear noises emanating from other residences.

Linda and I had lunch today with a very good friend I met two years ago when we were both here.  Tamra is a retired attorney who lives in Southern California, but travels a lot, like me.  I spent a couple of fun days with her last summer, sightseeing in the Sacramento area.
Great friend, Tamra, with me at
Doña Luisa restaurant
Linda returned from a week-long vacation in El Salvador on Monday afternoon and had gotten her dates mixed up.  She'd told me before I arrived that she'd planned a dinner party for my birthday, which was Tuesday, but she had invited friends for Wednesday.  So last night I was treated to a scrumptious and entertaining birthday dinner with Linda and my wonderful Guatemalan friends:  Carlos and Nancy, and their two daughters, Heisel and Shirli.
L to R:  Heisel (21), MP (72), Shirli (18),
and Nancy (40).  
L to R:  Heisel, Nancy, Shirli, Carlos (41), and Linda (60s) holding
Honey (3).  I love the entire Hernandez family; and, of course I
love Linda, whom I 'found' in Guatemala, and also found out we are
third cousins!
Linda with the girls - Linda met Nancy at Antigua's Christian Spanish
Academy (CSA) five years ago.  I met Nancy as my private tutor
in 2012.  I studied with her for quite a while.  Now she's back at the school;
so, while I'm here I'll be tutored by Carlos three mornings a week for
two hours each time.
My plate with a conservative portioning of a mild cream curry sauce with
pork and vegetables, a delectable rice pilaf, and lots of wonderful Guatemalan fresh
vegetables.  I love the carrots (sanahorrias) that come in many colors; I missed
serving myself a reddish purple carrot!

For the birthday dessert, Linda made the most fantastic pecan bars and served them warm with delicious vanilla ice cream.  My dessert even had a candle on it!  I was so looking forward to it I forgot to take a photo!

Over the course of the 18 months I lived here in Antigua, I made so many wonderful friends.  Nancy and Carlos' family are among my favorite people in the world! My first two-hour class will be at 8:30 tomorrow morning.  I'm already feeling more comfortable in my speaking ability, which seems to be coming back almost moment by moment; I can't wait to get back on the Spanish language wagon.  Nancy was my private tutor for about 8 months; however, it will be Carlos giving me lessons during this stay.

Today, Linda and I took it easy in the morning; I started a big pot of black beans with additions of lots of vegetables and seasonings.  Black beans are a staple of the Guatemalan diet; these won't be exactly traditional, but they'll be hearty and healthful.  Tonight we'll dig into the leftovers from last night and I love leftovers!

This noon I accompanied Linda to Hermano Pedro Hospital in town, where she volunteers 4-5 days a week.  Herman Pedro was a Spanish brother who came to Antigua with the conquistadores when they established Antigua as the first capital of Guatemala in the late 15th and early 16th centuries.  Hermano Pedro had instructions from the Spanish crown to build churches and a care facility for the indigenous Maya people.  He fell in love with these wonderful people and their plight in lieu of the treatment and terror rained upon this gentle culture by the conquistadores.  Hermano Pedro dedicated his life to the welfare of this gentle culture; he's now been canonized by the Catholic Church - the only canonized saint from Guatemala - a true hero.

Hermano Pedro Hospital has been in continuous operation since the 1600s.  Many of the buildings date from that time; this is true of many, many of the buildings in Antigua and surrounding pueblos.  Each day around noon, Linda goes into the little angel department [what we would call the "Pediatrics"] to assist the nurses with their duties and to give as much love as she can.  Many of the babies and children are hospitalized for months, and even permanently, after having been brought in as a result of severe malnutrition and other sometimes horrific maladies.  Malnutrition definitely isn't the extent of their health problems, so most have varying degrees of mental retardation and other chronic or disastrous physical anomalies.  Herman Pedro Hospital is completely free to anybody in need of care who shows up at their doors.
One of the hallways outside of various departments at Hermano Pedro.
Nobody in need is turned away
A Canadian contingent of Rotary International was at the hospital to give
25 patients a new wheelchair; the patients were thrilled.  Many of these
actually live at the hospital, going home, when possible, for holidays
Entrance to the "Little Angel" Department with
Heidi (pronounced A-E-DE) one of the nurses.
She's a very good friend of Linda's whose wedding
Linda photographed - all very traditional Maya
Linda with three of her babies; she's holding a new little girl.  In front of
her are from left, Hamilton and Robinson - not sure why they both have
traditional names.  Both boys are over two years old!  They're
definitely on the mend.

This is Kevin, a severely developmentally handicapped
boy who also suffered from severe mal-
nutrition.  He's almost three.
This is Dulcie, a severely malnourished little girl who's been
recently admitted.  Unable to eat, she's given tubal feedings.  She's
about six years old.
This is the nurses' station for the department, no computers here!

I post these pictures, some of which are distressing to view, because these are the lucky children.  Others are out in the pueblos being loved and cared for by their families, to the best of their abilities.  They either can't or do not know about the help they can receive at Hermano Pedro.  Also, it's very difficult for these poor people to leave their babies and children, which they must do in order to return to their other family members and work to provide food and shelter that's so necessary for their survival.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

More of Linda's Home . . .

Sorry for the interrupted presentation of these beautiful photos.  If anyone has tips on posting series of photos, please let me know.  When I try to maneuver them, they jump to the beginning of the post and don't stay where I put them!

Oh, I almost forgot to mention that I didn't bring a camera with me on this four month adventure; all photos are taken using my iPhone!

Another yard garden off the living room and
dining room.  See the wall that encloses the entire house
and yard

Not huge, but oh-so-workable kitchen with modern interspersed with
traditional Mayan decor

This was taken at 2 in the afternoon - love it!

View of front doors from courtyard

Linda's bedroom with a commissioned oil painting by
Lauro Salas, a Guatemalan artist

Walkway from entry to all rooms of the house

Linda's office and sometimes 2nd guest bedroom

Door from walkway into kitchen

Official guest bedroom - mine while I'm here!