Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Fruit Bats

We saw these on the touristy Quinte Avenida in downtown Playa del Carmen on the 22nd. They are so cool I thought you might like to see them. I think they are the Common Fruit Bat, but as you can see from the video trying to get a good look was difficult. However, they were grabbing the figs and flying off with them!

We also saw many Baltimore Orioles and Common Grackles that spend the summers in South-Central and Eastern Canada (and elsewhere but this is where I saw them) and winter here on the Yucatan Peninsula. On our walk today we saw a flash of iridescent blue in the forest and discovered a flock of Yucatan Jays. We have a gecko that lives in our room.The Spanish word for gecko in Mexico is cuija and they make kissing sounds at night. We also see lots of butterflies, flowers, iguanas and gartijas (a small lizard).

Monday, December 26, 2011

Feliz Navidad!

Okay, so I am a day late but still I hope you had a very Merry Christmas!! We started the day at the beach and found a small reef about 800 m away and did some snorkeling.
The party started at 8 pm and went until 6 am! I was pooped by 2 am and my Spanish was failing so I bailed early. We had a blast at the party, 10 adults and a 3 year old. This year the celebration was at Diego's sister's place to make it easier for our nephew Santiago to get to bed after opening his presents. The thing I find the most interesting is how they decorate their houses with Christmas trees, snowmen and Santa Claus. They actually import live trees from Canada and the vast majority of Mexicans have never seen real snow!!
They do have Santa Claus and he does come in the night so Santiago had more present to open in the morning! I asked them how Santa got into the houses since they don't have chimneys and they have bars on all the windows... I don't think any of them had ever thought of that before, not even as children! One tradition that we don't have is to celebrate the arrival of the Wise Men so on Jan 6. On that night the kids put out a shoe and get a little gift. There is also a traditional cake that I describe here when I was fortunate enough to experience the celebration in 2009.

There were lots of gifts to go around and with each gift you have to hug and sing which just adds to the fun and celebratory ambiance. It took almost 3 hours for all the gifts to be opened and then it was time to eat (at 12 am!!!). As usual we had WAY to much food and we will be eating leftovers for at least another couple of days. I made Canadian style turkey dinner to go with the more traditional Mexican dishes and everyone LOVED IT! I even brought canned whole berry cranberry sauce to give them the real experience.
We also had Bacalao a la Vizcaina which is salted cod fish soaked in water to remove the salt and then cooked in a tomato sauce with onions, potatoes and olives. This is a very traditional dish for Christmas in Mexico and dates back to the Spanish conquest. There is no cod fish in Mexico but the Spanish used to fish the cod off the Canadian and American coast and brought the tradition with them. The link to the bacalao recipe is from Diego's great-great grandmother! The one we ate this year (photo below) is from his brother-in-law's family.
We had pork loin stuffed with nuts, plums and grapes with a nut and red wine sauce. Although not traditional and it doesn't look very appealing in the photo below, it was DELICIOUS! I am getting the recipe for sure. There was also a lasagna with walnuts, almonds, capers, olives and ground beef...who would have thought to put nuts in a lasagna but it was very tasty!
For dessert we had ensalada de manzana (apple salad with a cream sauce - in the yellow bowl) and hojaldra. Hojaldra is very traditional at Christmas and New Years and comes from the Yucatan peninsula. It is a layer of a pastry, one of ham, another of cheese and then topped with another layer of pastry sprinkled with coarse grain sugar. Diego's sister made it and I forgot to take a photo but for New Years, Diego's mom is going to teach me how to make it and I will pass on the information because it is delicious!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Noche Buena

Noche Buena or Christmas Eve in Mexico...we are preparing for the family gathering tonight. This will inlcude traditional food such as romeritos (dried shrimp with a type of grass and potatoes cooked in a chocolate and chili gravy),bacalao (salted cod with potatoes in a tomato and chili sauce) with the accompanying Canadian stuffed turkey. The gifts are wrapped and ready to be opened. For now we will head to the beach since the party doesn't start until 8 pm!

I hope you all have a very Merry Christmas filled with good food, excellent company and lots of laughter.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Delicious Twist on an Old Favorite

Being in 2 different departments at the University leads to many holiday parties. So to keep things simple during a busy time I always fall back on an old favorite with my added twist....Banana Bread. What is the twist you ask? Well adding a holiday fruit like cranberries and to balance the bitterness of the berries a few chocolate chips for a decadent treat!
I made this yesterday and a friend asked for the recipe, so I thought I would share it with everyone!

1-3/4 cups of flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp of salt
1/3 cup of shortening or butter or lard
2/3 cup of sugar (I use 1/2 cup when I have chocolate chips)
2 eggs
1 tsp of vanilla
3-4 mashed very ripe bananas
1 cup of chocolate chips
1/2 - 3/4 of a 340 g bag of fresh or frozen cranberries

***Update Jan 19, 2012 - instead of white flour I used Spearville Mills' Whole White Flour and it was VERY moist! I also used 1-85% dark chocolate bar broken into chunks instead of chocolate chips and I enjoyed it much better than the sweetness of the the chips. It was heavenly to bite into a chunk rather than a chip!***

Cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time and beat well after each addition. Add bananas and mix well. I sometimes freeze my ripe bananas to get enough for the recipe, if you do this too thaw them first and not need to mash them before adding them to the mix. Add the vanilla and mix well.

Sift together the flour, salt, baking soda and powder and add in 4 portions to the mixture. Mix until smooth after each addition. Pour into a well greased pan and bake at 350F for 50 mins or until a knife comes out clean from the centre.

This tastes AMAZING right out of the oven with a little butter and a tea (or coffee)! The cranberries add extra moisture making this cake feel dense but the cake itself is light as is the flavour because of the bananas.


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Diego's Big Day!

Diego successfully defended his PhD Thesis today!!! He is now Dr. Diego in Biological Oceanography! His defense was 2 hours long and he did GREAT with all the questions. I am very proud of his success! One down, one more to go in the family! But now, it is time to celebrate!