Spicing it Up with Chilero

Spicing it up with Chilero

 

Visitors to Macaw Lodge love their delicious chilero. This spicy condiment can add zest to meats, eggs, even veggie dishes.

Chili peppers are good for you. They contain vitamins and minerals. But most importantly, they have been shown to have positive effects on prostate cancer, blood, and even ulcers (no, they don’t make ulcers worse!). Cultures where hot pepper is used liberally have a much lower rate of heart attack, stroke and pulmonary embolism.

Chili peppers have varying degrees of heat, depending on the amount of capsaicin in each variety. It’s this ingredient that produces that unmistakable sensation of heat – and pain! − in the mouth by stimulating pain receptors in the skin and mucous membranes. The response can be sweating, watery eyes, and strangely enough, exhilaration. One scientific theory says that in response to the discomfort produced by the burning, the brain releases endorphins. At high levels, these can actually create a sensation of pleasure.

 

Hot, hot hot

Capsaicin is also the active ingredient in some topical pain-killers because it numbs pain receptors in the skin.

You can accustom your taste buds to chili. Over time, the receptors will react less fiercely. In the Mexican province of Tabasco, we were served a little bowl of chopped chilies in lime juice on the table at every meal. My first tentative taste graduated to healthy dollops on my food. And when I returned home after just 10 days, I actually missed the spice.

If you find the chilies too hot to handle, don’t drink water. Water and alcohol only increase the burn of chilies in the mouth. My Indian friends tell me to eat bread. But I’ve been reliably informed by Jim Garcia, a chili expert, that the only real antidote is dairy – milk, yogurt, sour cream, cheese.

. Although it sold bottled, they kindly shared the recipe in a recent newsletter with the following information:

Behind the spicy feeling, chilies that spice our cuisine have capsaicin, which can be used as an analgesic for rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and other neuropathologies.

 

About 1 kg chilies (aji, panameno, habanero)
3 cups olive oil
3 cups white vinegar
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
4 big carrots (can substitute with yuplon or starfruit)

Mix this amount (or desired proportion) of ingredients in a blender. Serve in small quantities with meats, rice and beans or other dishes. Refrigerate when not being consumed.

 

Want to know more about chilies

 

Bonnehomme Carnaval

Bonnehomme

Arriving at the airport in Quebec City, I can’t resist a photo with a familiar character.

Bonnehomme Fun Facts

To most Canadians, Bonnehomme is as familiar as Santa Claus and he’s immediately linked with Carnaval, Quebec’s unbeatable way to warm up the winter.  But did you know these little known Bonnehomme facts?

There is only one Bonnehomme. Unlike Santa, there are no spurious versions wandering the streets of Quebec.

Bonnehomme has travelled the world promoting his city’s famous Carnaval.

Despite the rumours, he is not related to Frosty, though Santa was a childhood friend.

He turns 65 next year but hasn’t added a single wrinkle, proof positive that winter cold is good for the complexion.

Bonnehomme is bilingual, and always smiling and ready to take a picture, especially with children.

You can meet him in person every year during Carnaval in Quebec City (end of January to mid-February).

Quebec City adds these fun facts:

First name: Bonhomme
Last name: Carnaval
Year of birth: 1954
City of birth: Quebec City
Height: 7 feet
Weight: 400 pounds of compacted snow
Favourite colors: White and red
Favourite treats: Ice cream and sorbet
Distinctive motion: Lifing his leg
Best friends: Fans of winter!
Greatest quality: Joie de vivre
Famous words: Joyeux Carnaval!
Biggest dream: Reverse global warming
Notoriety: Public personality most spontaneously associated with Quebec City

You can meet Bonnehomme in person every year during Carnaval in Quebec City which usually begins near the end of January and runs until mid-February. Want to know more about Carnaval? Visit here.

Joyeux Carnaval!

Joyeux Carnaval! Bonnehome and me

Bonnehomme Carnaval and I posing in the eerie light of this year’s Ice Palace. Take a tour further down.

If there’s one thing Canadians know, it’s how the make the best of winter. But Quebec has perfected the art of making it fun.

No matter how cold it gets, hibernation is not an option. Instead, Carnaval, the largest winter carnival in Canada and one of the oldest in the world (it began in 1894) takes a bite out of frosty February.

Joyeux Carnaval! Ice Palace

The Ice Palace by day. Note the verdigris copper roof of the historic Citadel in the background and in front, the Ice Bar sponsored by SAQ (Quebec’s liquor board).

Carnaval fills every available park space in Quebec City with snow sculpture competitions, games, ice bars, toboggan runs, children’s activities, and more. And there are races – on snow, on ice, on snow AND ice, and even on ice and water (the ice canoe races are an extraordinary test of skill, endurance and insanity).

Joyeux Carnaval Ice canoe races.

The festivities kick off with the selection of the Carnival queen at Bonnehomme’s ice palace. From seven duchesses representing different Quebec regions, one is crowned. No gowns or bathing suits here – it’s done by drawing their names out of a barrel and the first to have her name drawn five times wins. The girls are all pretty and definitely enthusiastic, but what a kick in the eye to traditional beauty pageants.

Joyeux Carnaval Crowning the queen

The queen is crowned at the Ice Palace

Of course, Bonnehomme is on hand, pumping up the audience with each name drawn from the barrel. Who is Bonnehomme, you ask? Since 1955, this cheerful white snowman, sporting a red tuque and red arrow sash, has been the symbol of Quebec City’s Carnaval. To learn more, check the little list of fun facts here

Bonnehomme’s ice palace is reconstructed each year – a massive confection of glistening blocks of ice designed by artisan sculptor, Marc Lepire. This year, the interior is surreal. Mixing sound, lights and projections, Odyss Land of Ice, offers a stunning interactive experience, which allows visitors to add to the symphony of sound or get silly and throw balls through the holes in the ice wall…or can they? It’s all so much fun that the cold is forgotten in the excitement.

Joyeux Carnaval! Camp a JosMy favourite area is Camp à Jos, a nostalgic re-creation of the early days of the coureurs de bois. Literally runners of the woods, these French Canadian woodsmen traded with both Europeans and native peoples. Bonnehomme’s outfit is a salute to their traditional warm tuque and colourful sash.

Joyeux Carnaval child throwing an axeCamp à Jos is a family area with games and activities for everyone. Forget bucking broncos, here you can ride a wild moose. And I watch children throwing axes at targets (carefully contained in a safe area). Eventually hunger and cold drive me indoors, to the cosy sausage and beer canteen, where large tables encourage mingling; after all, Carnaval is all about community.

Dessert is easy. At any Cabane à Sucre (Sugar Shack), I happily roll my stick along a ribbon of thick maple syrup in clean snow, creating a delicious lollipop. At this shop, two experts create ready made treats.

The snow sculpture competition is always exciting. There are both National and International categories, and volunteers of the carnival as well as visitors get to vote for their favourites.

Joyeux Carnaval snow sculpting team from BC

A team from British Columbia sculpts their snow block

The winning sculpture, a giant fish with enormous teeth was undoubtedly a technical challenge.

Joyeux Carnaval winning sculpture

The winning sculpture Photo by Frederic Lavoie

But both volunteers and the public gave their thumbs up to the third place winner. Who could resist the humour of the giant boot sticking its tongue out to lick some spilled milk? Or is that milk?

Joyeux Carnaval the boot

the cheeky boot won third place but grabbed both Volunteer and Public awards Phot by Frederic Lavoie

And some of us get to be part of a sculpture.

Joyeux Carnaval me in a sculptureOver the years the always creative roster of activities during Carnaval has included a children’s sculpture competition, snow baths, dogsled races, a soapbox derby, barrel jumping (on skates of course), motorbikes on ice, and more. And don’t forget those crazy ice canoe races.

So grab your warmest clothing and boots and head for the city that never ceases to provide excitement, fun and friendly French charm.

Macaw Lodge, Costa Rica

Macaw Lodge Costa RicaIn the heart of the forest in Cerros de Turrubares in the Central Pacific region of Costa Rica, Macaw Lodge takes sustainability to a whole other level.

Pablo Gordienko has a vision – a completely self-sustaining hotel – and in just five years, he’s most of the way there. The lodge and four cabins can house 24 guests. Constructed from reclaimed, recovered (after storms) and plantation woods, the buildings and furnishings are hand-built, mostly from teak which Gordienko himself planted here 25 years ago. The floors are quarried stone, polished to a marble gloss.

Interior stairs Macaw Lodge Costa Rica

The stairs at the Lodge – look at the different woods and the polished stone floor

Enormous windows maximize daylight, and homemade, low wattage LED fixtures light the night. Low wattage is key since Macaw Lodge generates and stores its own electricity from enormous solar panels.

room Macaw Lodge Costa RicaEven the ceiling fans are specially designed to use only 6 watts of power. The power is 12 volt direct current, so guests can only charge mobile phones at one of two special power stations; there are no outlets for hair dryers or shavers.

water filtration ponds Macaw Lodge Costa RicaWater comes from natural springs and goes through three sediment filters, a charcoal filter, then through UV light. Hot water is heated by the sun in three 300-litre tanks. Showers are low flow. Dishes are washed by hand. A closed system sends sewage to a bio-digester and grey water to a water bed. This is reused for irrigation and toilets.

interior Macaw Lodge Costa RicaSustainable Dining

But it’s the approach to dining that really sets this spot apart. Gordienko’s enthusiasm for providing healthy and sustainable menus has driven him to growing foods most operators add to the purchase order – cocoa, coffee, hibiscus for jelly and syrup, rice, and nuts.

Greenhouse at Macaw Lodge Costa RicaThe gardens grow nearly everything: an heirloom variety of rice; vegetables like four different beans and four varieties of spinach; culinary and medicinal herbs; and fruits like plantain, papaya, mango, and more.

At Macaw Lodge, the coffee and cocoa plants are shaded by Inga trees, a nitrogen-fixing legume. The white pulp of the Inga bean is sweet and tastes like ice cream. “The point is that in landscaping, we build relationships,” explains Gordienko. “We’re developing functional gardens that are attractive but good for animals. For example, our cattails attract hummingbirds.”

Macaw Lodge Costa RicaHe wants Costa Ricans to benefit from what he’s learned. He has planted four varieties of breadfruit selected for different uses (chips, fruit, etc). “One breadfruit tree can feed a family of four for 50 years with carbohydrates,” he says. “My goal is to give one tree to every family. I’ve already developed more than 200 trees.”

And then there are the ojoche (breadnut) trees. Considered sacred by the Maya, the fresh nuts can be cooked and eaten, or dried for later use. Stewed, he tells us, the nut tastes like mashed potato; roasted, it has a mocha flavour. It is high in fibre, protein, and B vitamins, has a low glycemic index, is chock full of antioxidants, and can be ground into flour for bread. Each tree produces 50-75 kilos of nuts annually. “We haven’t tried making bread yet, but we’re hoping to replace wheat flour with this,” explains Gordienko.

Breakfast Macaw Lodge Costa RicaThe menu here might include pulled chicken fajitas, with salad greens from the gardens, or grilled, locally sourced fish. Fish tanks on the property are currently growing tilapia. Tropical fruits, fried plantains, pancakes with hibiscus syrup, and homemade breads are typical breakfast offerings. A favourite is their famous chilero.

“I think people want an experience,” says Gordienko. “They want to feel good about what they are doing and what they are eating.” He’s happy to tour guests through the plantations and herb farms where medicinal as well as culinary herbs can be found.

yoga platform under black bamboo Macaw Lodge Costa RicaYoga, eco-experiences, beaches

Unsurprisingly, yoga retreats have become popular at Macaw Lodge, so Gordienko has built two yoga platforms, one beautifully shaded with overarching black bamboo trees. But his guests also like to try their hand at eco-friendly experiences such as zip lining, wildlife river cruises and of course, glorious beaches, all of which are available nearby.

sea and sky near Macaw Lodge Costa RicaAnd let’s not forget the magnificent wildlife in this country which boasts six per cent of the world’s biodiversity, although it comprises only 0.3 per cent of its land mass.

howler monkeys 6 per cent of the world's biodiversity

Three howler monkeys use the telephone cables as a highway.

Costa Rica is blessed with fertile soil and a superb climate. Almost everything can be grown right here. In this country that takes its eco-friendly image very seriously, Macaw Lodge is a model for just how completely sustainable it’s possible to be.

Door County Fish Boil

Door County Fish Boil fireBoiled fish?! My first reaction is, “Yuck!” But here in Door County, Wisconsin, the fish boil is a tradition.

Originally designed to serve large numbers of lumberjacks or fishermen, this simple meal has become something of an art form. The art is not in the ingredients, I hasten to add. Potatoes, onions, fish, salt, nothing could be simpler – or more boring. The art comes in the work of the ‘Boil Master’. And the Boil Master here at Rowley’s Bay Resort is Dan Cegelski, an acknowledged expert at the craft.

Door County Fish BoilWe sit in a circle in front of the inn. Set dramatically at its centre is an open fire of logs, atop which bubbles a huge cauldron of water. Why do I feel tempted to chant, “Double, double, toil and trouble”?

Our Master of Ceremonies for the night is Don Makuen, a venerable character, who keeps us entertained with stories, periodically interrupted as the Boil Master adds each new ingredient to the cauldron. First salt, then potatoes, then onions, and finally a huge colander of whitefish pieces. It frankly looks fairly unappetizing. My mental reservations continue.

Fishy Tales

Door County Fish Boil Don Makuen tells storiesMakuen however, makes up for any concerns about the taste, adding a distinct flavour of his own in the form of historical tales. He relates the tale of the resort’s namesake, Peter Rowley, the first real settler in the area, and the two women with whom he moved to a remote part of the county in 1836. It’s likely that one was his mother-in-law, but with a sly wink, our storyteller manages to give the tale a slightly salacious air. It’s all good fun.

Door County Fish Boil the Doors of DeathThe first European to discover the Door Peninsula, in 1634, was a Frenchman, Jean Nicolet, who erroneously thought he had found China. Door, Makuen explains dramatically, comes from the French name for the treacherous straits linking Green Bay to Lake Michigan – Porte des Morts (Door of the Dead). It is said to have more shipwrecks under its apparently calm waters than any other section of fresh water in the world.

But it’s a sad moniker for an area that is remarkably beautiful, with picturesque limestone outcrops of the Niagara Escarpment and rolling dunes.  Pretty little towns with evocative names like Egg Harbour and Fish Creek dot the county, which also boasts the first state park in America, Peninsula State Park.

Door County Fish Boil village of EphraimThe charming village of Ephraim was founded by breakaway Moravians led by Andrus Iverson, who built the first school in the area (both the school and his home are historic sites).

Door County Fish BoilTrue to its roots, it’s the only dry village in the county, a dubious claim as it simply means that liquor isn’t sold here. Consumption is a whole other matter, says Makuen with another wink.

But the end of his tales is near. The Boil Master steps forward again and warns us all to move well back. Then with a quick judgement of wind direction, he pours kerosene onto the flames, stepping quickly back.

Door County Fish Boil boil over of water

The water boils over taking scum and fat with it

For several minutes the cauldron is engulfed in a raging inferno, its contents bubbling over. And this is where the art comes in. It must boil over enough to take with it the scum, the grease – and the fishy taste. Beats the heck out of hand skimming the pot, but don’t try this at home!

The colander of fish and vegetables are lifted from the pot and served at the buffet inside the inn, along with plenty of other choices I gratefully observe (my reservations are full throttle now). But to my surprise, I like the delicate flavour of boiled whitefish, laced as it is with onions and lots of salt. Nonetheless, the best part of this meal is a hearty serving of Door County’s famous cherry pie.

The thin layer of soil atop the dolomite bedrock in this peninsula seems to be perfect for growing the fruit for which this county has become famous – sour cherries. Cherry wine, cherry jam, cherry salsa – cherries go into everything here. But there’s one cherry specialty you’ll have to talk a local into sharing with you.

Although Cherry Bounce predates Door County’s orchards (Martha Washington had her own recipe for it), it has become a local specialty. This simple infusion of cherries with alcohol (typically vodka or gin) and sugar, has become a seasonal favourite – but not cherry season.

“You start when the cherries are ripe, and it’s ready for Christmas,” explains Bob De Lautenbach, owner of  Lautenbach’s Orchard Country Winery and Market. “The alcohol gets a distinctly cherry flavour.”

Door County Fish Boil cherr tree

Young cherries are just beginning to ripen at Orchard Country Winery

Most of the cherries in his orchard go to make their distinctive wines. But there’s always plenty for the cherry spit, a less than genteel competition. I tried and only managed a paltry 12 feet. The reigning female champion, can spit a cherry pit more than 38 feet! But, I ask myself, is this really a title I covet?

Door County offers much more than boiled fish and cherries. It has become a Mecca for artists and artisans, and in this small area, you will find two remarkably professional theatre companies – the Peninsula Players and the Northern Sky Theatre. Both produce first run plays in spectacular natural settings.

Door County Fish Boil In addition, the students and internationally renowned instructors at Birch Creek Music Camp present concerts regularly – classical, jazz and my favourite, a steel drum concert by the students.

Door County Fish Boil kayaksBest of all, Door County encourages ‘silent sports’ like sailing, cycling, hiking and kayaking, making it a wonderful retreat for those seeking peace and quiet. The history and boiled fish are the cherry on top.