That Doesn’t Need Refrigerating!

There are so many cultural differences when you visit a new country, but here, my biggest challenges have always been food. I’ve always been a picky eater and I think most people figured I’d starve in Guatemala! Over time, I’ve overcome many of my food issues, but there are a few things that I still don’t get. One of these is the lack of refrigeration for things that I have always been taught to keep cold.

So, without further adieu, here are some of the items that are regularly NOT refrigerated in Guatemala.

Mayonnaise: Everyone knows that mayonnaise needs to be kept cold, right? Growing up, I heard horror stories of people who left their sandwiches with mayo in their lunchboxes for a few hours and got horribly sick or even died. So, when I started working in a cafe here and they kept their mayo in a squeeze bottle on the counter, I was horrified.
Fast forward a decade and while I do keep mayo in the fridge, it’s not a big stressor for me anymore. There are no eggs in the mayonnaise that we buy, and I’ve never gotten sick, so I’m going with “it’s okay.”

Yogurt: A few days ago, I was walking through the supermarket in Antigua and there in the dairy section was a stacked display of drinkable yogurt. Just sitting out in the aisle, no effort made to chill. If you head to the market, many stalls sell little cups of yogurt, which are stored in boxes sitting in the sun. I’ve never tested these and I never plan to. However, technically yogurt is cultured milk, so maybe it just keeps culturing instead of going bad? I really don’t know.

Meat: At the same supermarket, we went to buy some ham. There were displays of ham sitting on top of the display case and a big plate of pork chops. In the market, again, you’ll regularly see stalls in the meat section with slabs of beef and chicken carcasses laying out on the tiles or hanging from bars over the counter. This grosses me out no end . . .but again, there is a precedent for this. When you hunt or butcher an animal, you can let it hang for a bit to age. Personally, I prefer fresh meat that is frozen right away, but I’m also not a huge meat fan.

meat in the Guatemalan market

Eggs: Another thing I always figured you needed to keep cold was an egg. Take a stroll through the market in Antigua, though, and you’ll see bags and cartons of eggs sitting out. I did some research on this and it turns out that you don’t need to refrigerate eggs . . . as long as they aren’t washed. Also, if you DO put them in the fridge, they have to stay there or they will spoil when taken out.

Milk: This one is cheating, since the milk here comes in tetra packs very often. These can be left out and will stay “good” though if you ask me, packaged milk is extra gross (I’m not a milk fan anyway). I tasted it once and it was horrible, but certainly not rotten. If you’ve never seen this, though, the thought of boxes of milk sitting out is very odd.

Seafood: “Camarones! Camarones grandes!” is a shout you may hear near a speed bump in Antigua, while men with buckets of prawns wave handfuls of the smelly seafood at passing cars. In the market, you’ll find piles of shrimp heaped over little mountains of melting ice on slabs of wood. I don’t eat seafood, but even if I did I would be very, very careful about purchasing warmed raw shrimp.

 

 

Simple Focaccia Sandwiches

I make focaccia bread to sell, with fresh herbs from my little container garden and it goes well. However, the other day, someone sent me a video that showed a big, round focaccia being turned into a delicious looking sandwich and then cut into pieces to serve 10 people at once.

Obviously, this was an idea that needed to be replicated! So, I took my usual recipe and turned it into rounds. Once they were ready, I cut one through the middle and layered mayo, mustard, ham, lettuce and tomatoes on it, then topped it with the remaining piece of bread. When cut into quarters, each piece was the size of a regular sandwich, perfect for sharing!

This is so simple, but it was SO good. We’ll definitely be doing this again and when we have a cafe, I’ll be serving these sandwiches for sure!

Happy Birthday, Dante

I’m running behind these days! Dante turned 8 on the 16th and I’m just now blogging it. Oops. Things have been a little insane here, but that’s another post.

Dante spent a lot of time planning his birthday. Despite this, his requests were simple! A cake, a piñata, and a cookout at Florencia, as well as macaroni and cheese for dinner were what he wanted. Easily accomplished!

He had a terrific day and even told us that it was the best day of his life! Gotta love it when kids are so easy to please. :)

Here is the cake he requested.

For his gift, we filled a box with all sorts of craft and art supplies, everything from markers, crayons and scissors to fancy papers, a mini stapler and stencils. He was THRILLED!

The trip to Florencia was a fun one, though we thought we’d be rained on. It stayed perfect though, cloudy and cool without rain. We roasted potatoes, made chirmol with grilled tomatoes and onion and grilled some delicious beef with chimichurri sauce while the boys ran around and explored the forest.

Learning to Cook Chapin

When Irving and I first started living together, we had some food issues. I made things like spaghetti and meatballs, carrots and peas and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. He was used to eating rice, beans and eggs, with the occasional piece of chicken or beef. He had a pretty strong aversion to most vegetables and NEVER wanted to try anything new.

That being said, he would eat anything I put in front of him, as long as he didn’t know what it was beforehand. I learned to start making dinner and not answering his “What is it?” questions. He would eat it and discovered that he liked a number of new foods.

As anyone who has lived in a foreign country can tell you, though, sometimes you just want food from home. So Irving would visit his mom to eat and this often meant he had a second lunch around 4 and our dinner was at 5. Needless to say, that annoyed me a lot back in the day. ?

Over time, though, I learned to cook chapin (Guatemalan) food. It wasn’t always easy. It took me nearly 7 years to get the hang of rice, for example. But I have managed to nail a few things! Here’s the breakfast I made Irving yesterday:

Fried plantains, refried black beans and eggs with chirmol on top. There were sausages, too, but they didn’t make it into the breakfast. He was thrilled!

Over the years, we’ve learned to adapt, as all couples do. These day, my food is a mix of Guatemalan and Canadian, with a little Chinese thrown in sometimes. I can prepare the basics in Guatemalan cuisine . . . tamales, frijoles revueltos, picado de rabano, pepian and tortillas (though my slapping technique is still lacking), but Irving has also come to enjoy more Canadian foods, like oatmeal that isn’t gruel consistency and has fruit in it, stuffed potatoes, brown bread and even tuna fish salad. He still won’t touch egg salad sandwiches though!

Dominic Turns 3

Hard to believe that it’s been three years since my last little one was born! His birthday was actually on the 20th, but Irving was sick and working and then the rest of us were hit hard with this flu/cold/death plague thing. Wow, is it harsh! I got the worst of it, with a 102.4 fever, horrible aching joints, etc. but Irving said it’s my own fault since I used essential oils on the boys and not on myself. Whoops.

Anyway. Back to the celebrations.

Dominic was dead set on a Snoopy cake for months. He had it all picked out, but about a week before his birthday, he decided he wanted a Paw Patrol cake. And not just a Paw Patrol cake, he wanted a strawberry cake because “I LOVE strawberries!” So, I made it happen.

Here are the shields that I made for the cake, one for each pup on the show (he’s only watched the first season).

The finished cake, with a whipped topping covering instead of icing. It seemed a shame to ruin the sweet freshness of the strawberries with sweet icing, so I changed it up a bit.

Inside the cake, strawberries with jam and cream cheese filling.

This cake ended up being much simpler than it was supposed to be. I tried to sculpt puppies to go on top of the cake, but it turns out that I’m not so great at sculpting at 3 am. So, in the end, I stuck printed pups on toothpicks on top, which he pulled off before I even got up. You’ll notice that he took a swipe of the icing, too . . . “I only tried a little bit, Mama!”

Despite this not being my best work, Dominic was thrilled. He was even more thrilled with the Paw Patrol banner that we printed and hung for him. In the morning saw it and ran in to tell me, “Mama, my Paw Patrol is HERE!”

Happy birthday to a very special little boy who has been the perfect addition to the family for the past three years.

Little Chefs

All three boys are really into cooking right now and I’m all for it! More help in the kitchen? Yay! I do love cooking, but having some help is great, especially when I’m stuck on deadlines. In fact, the older boys are completely capable of making dinner on their own now, from lighting the gas stove (I still peek) to chopping veggies and cooking everything to perfection. And sometimes a tad past, but we learn from our mistakes.

Dorian regularly makes scrambled eggs for everyone except Dante (who still feels eggs are cruel and disgusting). He uses olive oil to keep things healthy, beats the eggs until they’re fluffy and cooks them beautifully. In fact, he can make eggs better than I can!

Dante almost always wanders over when I’m cooking to ask if he can help. He loves to cut vegetables and stir things. We’ve been working on seasonings, too and using our nose to help tell when a dish is well seasoned (as well as a taste test, of course).

The other night, Dante helped me with some simple chili and then he made a salad.

This was the end result:

All this independence is rubbing off on Dominic, too! The other day, I made coffee cake and he helped stir and pour and scrape it into the pan. Later in the day, I heard him scrabbling around at the kitchen table and when I looked, he was scooping a piece of cake out of the pan with a spatula. Except . . . I hadn’t cut it! He’d taken a butter knife, careful cut himself a slightly lopsided square of cake (quite reasonably sized, too!) and then used the spatula to move it to his plate. I was pretty impressed!

At this rate, I figure Mother’s Day with breakfast in bed is imminent.

The Bagel Invasion

In the whirlwind of negative stuff that is happening around here lately, (far more than just the Guate-Publications thing) I’ve been baking up a storm, which resulted in a rather funny story.

I’d run out of yeast, so Irving bought me another bag. The first time I used it was to make some whole wheat bread and the kids and I ended up watching this stuff bubble and grow like a crazy alien lifeform. It was amazing. And very, very active. The bread turned out beautifully and I was thrilled.

The other day, I got an order for two dozen bagels and set to work making them. The first batch came out so incredibly puffy that they were more buns than bagels! I thought maybe I had let the dough rise too much or hadn’t put in enough flour. So I made some more.

They came out the same way! I was getting frustrated, since it was after midnight and I still had a bunch of writing to do. Making bagels is somewhat time consuming, of course, so I wasn’t getting a lot of writing done.

I chatted with my sister who suggested that I should try halving the yeast since it was so darn active. Of course. Why didn’t I think of that?

So, I cut the yeast by half and presto! Perfect bagels. I whipped up the rest of them and got to bed by 1:30.

The end result was a whopping 35 bagels that were so unlike bagels they couldn’t be sold. On the plus side, we have lunch for the next week!

The San Juan Nispero Festival

With my sister here, we’ve been doing some fun stuff, like visiting ruins and enjoying the local sights. Over the weekend, there was a nispero festival in San Juan del Obispo, just outside Antigua. Naturally, we had to check it out.

Nisperos are also known as loquats and they are rather like little peaches. They are super juicy and delicious, with three or four large seeds inside. San Juan is known as THE place to buy nisperos.

The festival is held in the central plaza, in front of the church. There were stands with assorted nispero related offerings on two sides of the plaza and the rest was simply ironworks and wood carving booths, etc. Basically, all the artisans came out to celebrate and take advantage of the crowds. It was neat to see!

Prize winning nisperos!

You could buy nispero marmalade or nisperos in syrup. My sister snagged a jar of jam to take home.

There was also plenty of nispero wine, some mixed with pineapple or other fruit.

Sometimes it’s good to be a tourist in your own area. :)

Teaching Kids to Cook: Age Appropriate Activities

All three boys were in the kitchen last night! They were inspired by a Jamie Oliver show they watched in the morning and so our dinner was this:

Mustard chicken in cream sauce, dauphinoise potatoes (sort of) and sesame green beans. It was DELICIOUS! Dante asked if we could make it again tonight.

Anyway, when I posted photos on my Facebook, a friend asked how to start her son off cooking. What is an age appropriate task for each kid?

The answer? It totally depends on the kid.

Dorian is responsible and careful and has been since he was tiny. He started cooking when he was 3. Dante is the opposite, impetuous and he tends to forget what he’s doing. He only recently started using the stove and he requires supervision. Dominic is too small and not very careful, so he helps with non-heat and non-knife tasks.

Age Appropriate Cooking Activities for Kids

Keep in mind that these are GENERAL guidelines. This is just a suggestion, you know your child best. If he or she isn’t ready for knives or heat, baking is a great option. Salads are also easy to make if an older sibling or adult cuts up the carrots, tomatoes, etc. Always supervise your little ones when they are cooking!

2-3

    • Spreading jam, peanut butter, etc. on bread or sturdy crackers
    • Pouring small amounts of liquid into a cup
    • Dumping a pre-filled measuring spoon or cup into a bowl
    • Holding the mixer (with help)

    • Snapping the ends off green beans
    • Using cookie cutters to press out shapes
    • Mashing things like avocados in a ziplock bag to make guacamole
    • Taste testing!

3-4

    • Stirring ingredients together
    • Measuring flour, sugar, etc.
    • Cutting soft foods (butter, cheese, bananas, etc.) with a butter knife
    • Icing cookies
    • Roll meatballs by hand

  • Rolling out dough
  • Arranging biscuits, etc. on a pan
  • Spraying pans or pots with oil
  • Garnishing with sprigs of herbs, sprinkles of paprika, etc.
  • Peeling onions and garlic

Dorian's peas and pasta

5-7

  • Cutting soft and medium-hard vegetables with a sharp knife (show them proper knife techniques and supervise!)
  • Making microwave mug cakes
  • Using the blender
  • Boiling and sauteing foods (again, with supervision)
  • Peeling vegetables
  • Shaping bread dough
  • Folding dough for samosas, turnovers, etc.
  • Cracking eggs (this skill takes practice)
  • Measuring liquids
8+
  • Cutting raw meat
  • Defrosting food in the microwave
  • Kneading bread dough
  • Checking food in the oven (supervise early on)
  • Using the immersion blender to make soups, etc.
  • Cutting harder vegetables (Carrots, for example)
  • Garnishing with sauces
  • Whisking sauces while cooking to keep them smooth

Do your kids cook? What are some of your suggestions for teaching children to cook?

Cooking Kids

When I was pregnant with our first baby, one that we lost, I wrote out a list of skills I wanted my children to master before they turned ten and by the age of fifteen. Most of these skills were meant to help them become independent. If something happened to us, I wanted my kids to be able to look after themselves.

One of the skills was cooking. To me, this is an essential skill. Not just to be able to make pasta or a sandwich, but to be able to really cook and understand the ingredients. Both of the older boys help out with cooking here and there and I’ve made a point of involving them in the kitchen. Dominic will run to push up his chair as soon as he sees me with the mixer. He likes to mix up cakes and cookies and has mastered the ability to hold the mixer upright so it doesn’t spatter.

Dante is particularly interested in baking and he loves to knead and shape bread beside me. He will do stovetop cooking, but quite frankly, he has only recently been permitted to do this type of cooking because he tends to be hyper and impulsive and is not very careful. Baking was a better choice for him until recently.

Dorian, on the other hand, has always been steady and careful, so he started to scramble his own eggs at the age of three. He’s made elegant pasta dishes, cakes, soups and assorted dishes with considerably supervision over the years and he often offers to chop veggies for me because he loves using a knife.

The other day, I was exhausted from writing and not feeling the motivation for dinner. I suggested sandwiches for supper and Dorian told me he’d really rather have soup. His brothers quickly agreed (Irving was away on a gig). I was thinking about whether or not I had the energy to make soup when Dorian piped up, “I know you’re tired, so don’t worry. I’ll make the soup, I can do this myself and you can just relax.”

And then he made soup for dinner, with carrots and zucchini and a little too much rice, plus some chicken. I did give him some pointers on how to make the broth by blending onions and garlic, but he did that part himself, too. It was awesome. And delicious. Dante, my pickiest eater, had three bowls of the soup!

After dinner, we watched Master Chef Junior and Dorian said, confidently, “I could do that. I should be on this show!”

I’m starting to see a future where I don’t have to cook ever single meal . . .