Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Lima, Part 2 - The ChocoMuseo!

25 November, 2015

Anyone who knows Richard and I knows that we love chocolate.  We both believe chocolate is a basic food group and we should eat some every day.  (We don't practice that, we just believe it.

Well, this part of South America is the home of chocolate.  This is where cacao trees originated.  Where the first people learned that cacao could be eaten.  That the fruit on the beans could be dried, fermented, roasted, and then ground.  That the resulting powder could be mixed with water and spices and maybe some honey, and made a delicious drink.  That this special treat was worthy to be drunk by royalty, or the gods!  Then the Spanish arrived, and brought cacao to Europe.  Theobroma, the food of the gods, the scientific name of chocolate, became a world-wide fascination and commodity.

We saw cacao trees growing in the tropical regions of Ecuador.  Haven't found them in Peru, but this is one of the big cacao growing regions of the world.

And home to the ChocoMuseo, a chocolate museum plus café plus workshop!

Yes, the ChocoMuseo holds workshops so people can learn how to make chocolate.  The basic workshop is From Plant to Bar - people learn how chocolate is grown, picked, fermented, dried, roasted, ground, and turned into cocoa powder and cocoa butter, then mixed and churned and molded into edible chocolate bars.

The other major workshop is Ganache and Truffles - for those of us who are ready to make fancier chocolates!

And that's what I signed up to take, the Ganache and Truffle workshop.

I arrived a bit early, and had a cup of cocoa tea - an infusion made from the cacao seed shell, boiled in water and sweetened.  Delicious and refreshing and chocolatey without being heavy!

The other participants showed up, and Catarine, our instructor, gathered the three of us and took us to the workshop.  We each donned an apron (chocolate making can get messy), and we were ready to go.

First we learned how to make ganache, the filling for truffles.  Cream is heated to boiling and can be infused with flavors - we added coffee, and a dash of clove and cinnamon.  This was strained and then poured over melted chocolate.  (It could also be poured over chopped solid chocolate.)  For dark chocolate, one uses a 2 to 1 ration - 200 grams of dark chocolate to 100 grams of cream.  With lighter chocolate, less cream is used since the chocolate already has more fat in it.  Anyway, we learned how to properly mix the cream and chocolate, slowly slowly, then faster to make a smooth glossy paste, which is the ganache.  This is set aside to cool, and will be used later.

Then we put on gloves (like surgical gloves), and using ganache made previously, we rolled truffle centers.  This has to be done quickly, because chocolate melts at 98.6 degrees F (about 37 C) - yes, exactly at body temperature!  (Made for humans, right!?!?!?!)  The passionfruit ganache was very melty, and I had trouble making nice round truffles out of this.  But, well, pretty isn't everything.

While our rolled truffles chilled, we learned how to temper chocolate.  The heated chocolate is spread out on a marble slab and spread around, then scooped back - this mixes the cocoa butter and chocolate liqueurs so they don't separate later on in processing the chocolate.  The chocolate needs to be cooled to exactly 28 C (82.4 F), then a little more warm chocolate is added.

We used this molten chocolate to line molds - my molds had designs from the Nazca lines on them, which seemed so Peruvian!  The important part was to fully line the bottom and sides of each truffle mold with the melted chocolate, without making it so thick that it would be a solid piece of chocolate.  It was sort of like finger painting little cups with chocolate - so you know this was fun.

These molds went into the fridge to solidify, and our truffle balls came back out.  Each ball was dipped and rolled in the melted chocolate, placed back on a tray, and decorated with our choice of goodies - I used either almonds or mini M&Ms to create my lovely truffles.  (I should add that we used forks for this part.  Most of the time we used spoons.  And yes, we went through a LOT of silverware!  With, of course, licking the spoons off before changing to a new one.)

Then the chocolate molds came out - these were filled with our coffee ganache, which we made at the beginning.  The last layer was more molten chocolate to enclose the ganache center.  And back into the fridge.

While everything chilled, we had a tour of the processing area.

Turns out my belief that chocolate is a basic food group that should be eaten every day really isn't too far from wrong.  Catarine told us that if a person ate ten roasted cacao beans each day, they'd receive all the nutrients, minerals, and vitamins needed for good nutrition.  Scientists have said that chocolate is as close to a perfect food as exists, and that it really does provide us with most of what we need for full nutrition.  (This, of course, is without the sugar or milk or any of that unhealthy stuff we tend to add in.)

Then we tasted some of the drinks they made - pisco, a local liquor, mixed with chocolate, or coffee, or whatever.  Just tiny fractions of a shot glass, but wow, strong stuff!!!  Enough to get a little tipsy!

Finally, our truffles were ready for packaging.  We had little boxes and ruffly paper cups, and cello bags with, of course, colorful ribbon.  Presentation matters, even with homemade truffles!

It was a fun afternoon, I had great fun, and Richard and I now have 12 truffles to nibble on over the next week.  Absolutely worth the modest fee for the workshop!

If anyone is ever in a place with a ChocoMuseo, definitely check it out and take a workshop.

And they also have a special workshop for children and families!

Mmmmmmmm, chocolate!!!!

Lima, Part 1 - The Cat Park

25 November, 2015

On Monday, we flew from Guayaquil, Ecuador, to Lima, Peru.  This included a six or seven hour layover in Quito - not enough time to go into the city, but too long to hang around the airport.

Fortunately, the Quito Airport Center is directly across the street from the airport.  This is the place to hang out and wait for flights, with free wifi, a variety of eating places, and a series of shops, as well as room to walk around and stretch.

It was a life saver.

We arrived in Lima, Peru, after flying over the Andes.  Did the normal Immigration and Customs stuff, and as in Ecuador, we were sent to the expedited inspection line for seniors.  It's nice to be sent to a shorter line where someone helps put the luggage onto the x-ray belt for us; on the other hand, we really aren't that old or frail that we need extra help.  I mean, we're old but not OLD, you know?

Our hotel, which is called a hostel but in Spanish that doesn't necessarily mean a hostel but also a hotel or hostale or hospedaje (various sizes of hotels and varying amenities), is in the Miraflores neighborhood of Lima.  We're south of the center of town, somewhat near the beach.  This is one of the nicer neighborhoods in Lima, a capital city which has cleaned up its act but still has some problems with petty theft and pickpockets.  So we thought we'd stay in a more residential area.

This isn't one of the older parts of this city of some ten million people, but there are certainly old buildings in this area.  Also plenty of new high-rise apartment buildings and condominiums.  Not too high-rise, however, because this region does have its share of earthquakes.  There was a 7.2 earthquake just yesterday on the eastern side of the country, in the Amazon region, near the Peru-Brazil border.  We haven't heard of any damage or injuries, fortunately.  But the news mentioned that the city of Cuzco, the jumping-off spot to Machu Picchu, was closed temporarily to assess for damages.  (At least, that's what we gathered from the news in Spanish.  We could have misunderstood what was said.)

It's fascinating to be in another country in South America.  We're basically just south of Ecuador.  A neighboring country.  But the Spanish sounds different.  The English sounds different.  Peruvian Spanish is more clipped but more rolling at the same time - the rrrrrrs are rolled, the H or J or even X are more gutteral, and this carries through to the English.  It will take our ears a few days to become acclimated to the new sounds, as well as new names for similar foods that we found in Ecuador.

The weather is also cooler, or more similar to Quito even though we're on the coast, not in the mountains.  Lima is 12 degrees south of the equator, while Quito is .36 degrees south (or so - the marked equator is actually not the true equator found using GPS).  In Ecuador, it's summer; while Quito was chilly, Guayaquil definitely felt like summer.  

Even though we're only 12 degrees or so south of Guayaquil, this is an entirely different temperature zone.  Lima is in the midst of a lovely spring, with flowers blooming, cool cloudy mornings with mist rolling in from the Pacific, and sunny warm afternoons when the sun and breeze have chased away the clouds.  Daytime high temps are in the mid 70s F (about 20-23 C), although nights are a chilly 60-something (15-ish C).  Jacket weather, or a jacket and sweater for evenings/nights.

The main street we've been walking on for exploring our area is Jose Pardo, a long and wide boulevard with a median in the center.  But not just a median dividing the two directions of traffic.  No, this is a median as wide as the double-lane roads in each direction.  A median that is essentially a park, with grassy areas, benches for relaxing, a paved walkway in the center, lined with trees and streetlights full of hanging baskets with bright cheerful flowers!  Really, this is the best area to walk up and down the street.  Forget sidewalks, hang out in the park between the street!

The coastal cities of South America are known for their seafood, and Peruvian food is touted to be one of the best cuisines in this part of the world.  Ceviche, sea bass, all kinds of shellfish, and a variety of soups and stews are part of the Peruvian cuisine.  Last night, we visited our local seafood restaurant, the one with the beautiful turtle and fish painted on the exterior.  I had parihuela (pronouned pah-ree-HWAY-la), a thick fish and shellfish soup with almost a tomatoey and veg broth.  It was full of corvina (sea bass), shrimps, and a whole (but small) crab.  Delicious and warming on a chilly night.  

Okay, so for our first day in Lima we had a batch of errands to run.  Find our bank and get cash.  Find the FedEx office and figure out how to get our medications sent here - each country has its own list of red tape and requirements.  Find a post office and mail a gift.  Our lovely hotel manager helped us locate where to go, and marked it on the map.  We knew we'd learn more about the neighborhood while running our errands, and most of these places were near enough to walk up and down Jose Pardo, enjoying that walking park in the center of the road.

We found most of our places and accomplished our errands.  Then we needed to cross through Parque Kennedy, at the top of Jose Pardo, to get to a cross street and find the next place on our list.

But were sidetracked by the cat park.

Parque Kennedy is full of cats!  We were told that years ago, some people decided they didn't want their cats, so they dropped them off at this park.  (Mean, evil people!)  Soon, other people dropped their unwanted cats at the park as well.  Pretty soon there were a bunch of cats hanging around in the park, so the municipality started taking care of the cats.  (I'm guessing tourists came to the park to play with the cats, so this is part of the reason the cats are taken care of by the neighborhood.)  The cats are fed, people need to apply to the municipality to adopt one of these cats, and the whole thing is like a mini version of the Taiwanese town of cats that I visited.

In the center of the park is sort of a theatre in the round pit, like a mini Colosseum.  There are two sets of stairs going down into the pit, with the levels creating benches for lounging.  The whole pit was full of people enjoying the sunny afternoon.  And cats, enjoying the sunny afternoon.  Everyone, cats and people, were sitting or lounging in the sun, sprawled on the benches.

Of course, I walked around talking to cats, patting their heads, taking their photos.  Richard had found a kitty toy soccer ball that morning and, prophetically, gave it to me saying I should give it to a cat when I met a nice one.  Well, only one cat was interested in playing kitty soccer, but he/she and I had a fun time chasing the ball around the base of the pit.

Okay, my funny kitty story from the Galápagos (only because I have more photos and not enough narrative!) - I tend to try to speak more Spanish than I know, if that makes sense - and so I get into weird situations.

Just down the street from our hotel in Puerto Ayora, there was a bodega we'd stop in periodically.  They had a gorgeous big grey and black tabby, a very sweet cat who'd come over and head-butt my hand for petting.  I'd walk in the store and meow, he'd run over for his petting, then he'd go off and continue working in the shop (patrolling for rodents, I guess).

On our last day, I went by the bodega and asked "El gato es aqui?"  (The cat is here?)  "No," the lady replied, "Hostele España."  So I found the hotel, just a few doors down, and thought I'd go in and say goodbye to Mr Cat.

Well, the lady at the desk didn't speak much English.  So our conversation went something like:

Me: "Es uno gato en la bodega, tres o quatro edificios."  ("Is a cat in a shop, three or four buildings" - and I motion up the street.)

Lady:  "Si, si."

Me:  "La señora en la bodega dice, el gato es aqui."  ("The lady is the store says, the cat is here.")

Lady:  "Si, si." 

Well, at this point I have no idea how to say I want to see the cat, I want to say goodbye.  I could say this in French.  Maybe in Italian.  NO clue how to say this in Spanish.  So I say the only thing I can think of.

Me:  "El gato es mi amigo."  ("The cat is my friend.")

Lady:  "Si........."

Me:  "El gato es mi amigo!"  ("The cat is my friend!")

Lady catches on that I want to find the cat, LOL!  So she starts looking around for the cat, and comes out from behind the desk to walk around the lobby.  

So just in case I haven't made enough of a fool out of myself, I walk around meowing for the cat, since that's how he and I have established that I call for him.  People look up at me.  I smile and say, "I'm just calling the cat, I wanted to say goodbye."  The hostel guests smile, a few agree he's a really nice cat and they understand.  

Couldn't find the cat, he was hiding and/or sound asleep.

And yes, I felt quite silly.  In two languages!

But I thanked the lady, and walked out, laughing at myself.

Okay, so, onward.  I have more to report, but this well be in another blog, Lima Part 2.  A SPECIAL report!



Friday, November 20, 2015

Blue-Footed Boobies, and Turtle Love Beach

20 November 2015  

On an island somewhere heading toward the middle of the ocean, one expects life to be influence by the sea. Fishing, sea food, boats, swimming, all that.

I find the myriad artworks portraying the fish and sea creatures to be amazing. Appropriate, but amazing.

We signed up for a boat trip to Pinzon Island (or Isla Pinzon) for Thursday. We picked Pinzon because it isn't too terribly far from Santa Cruz, so it wouldn't be 2 or more hours on the boat going over and returning. And Pinzon is one of the islands with a small group of penguins! They even have a bay named Penguin Bay on the island! (Bahia de Pingüinos) So we were all set for a penguin sighting! 

We were supposed to sail from Puerto Ayora on the south side of Santa Cruz, but the seas were strong (we were told exactly that), so we were driven to the north side of the island for what was presumably a bigger or stronger boat. The eight of us piled in - Richard and myself, and six 20-35 yr olds from the US, Denmark, England, and Australia. Plus our friendly Ecuadorean guide, Fabricio.  

We only went out about 15 minutes and stopped near a large rock jutting up out of the ocean - this was our first snorkel stop. It seemed that everyone else had been advised to rent a shorty wetsuit - Richard and I booked the tour through our hotel, and that information was lost in the translation. So we put on our fins and masks, Richard jumped in the water, and immediately climbed the ladder to come back into the boat. COLD!!!! Okay, so maybe 72 degrees F (21 C) - which is pretty cold after tropical Asia and the South Pacific. 

I didn't even try the water, we just stayed on the boat.

The captain tried catching fish - the birds were having a major feeding frenzy on the water, indicating schools of small fish, meaning tuna were probably in the area feeding on the small fish. He set up a pole, circled around trolling, while I took photos of the zillions of birds. We caught nothing, but it was exciting anyway.

The snorkelers had even more excitement: one of the young sea lions slipped off the rocks and swam over to greet the group, coming right up to them and saying hello! 

Fabricio got a wonderful underwater photo of the small sea lion blowing out bubbles as he approached one of the young men, with just the blue water surrounding them. Gorgeous photo! 

We had another snorkel opportunity at another small island or cay, though the water was deeper here, so we knew it would be colder. Richard and I passed on that, and just enjoyed the scenery. 

This was basically a bird nesting island. We saw some frigate birds sitting on their nests, the male birds with their large red neck bubble blown up so they looked like half bird/half balloon - really freaky looking, but a gorgeous red! Then white birds with black edges and a little black ring around their beak - they turned out to be masked boobies! And we could even see booby babies, smaller and fuzzier, without their feathers fully grown in!!!! Booby babies! How many people get to see that?!?!!?

And then, the birds everyone wants to see, the blue-footed boobies!!!! They're sort of a taupe color, sort of a grey beige or beige grey, vaguely in between. With an almost blue grey beak, and startlingly bright blue feet and legs!!!! (And a totally vacant look in their eyes - really, they look just confused, baffled, and surprised to find themselves wherever they are.)

Again, the snorkelers came back on board, we drove by the birds slowly so we could all look at them and get a few photos and marvel at the blue feet. There are also red-footed boobies, but they live on a different island.

Of course, the artist in me would like to know if the blues and the reds ever mate, and what color feet their offspring would have. If it were a simple matter of color, they'd have purple feet. But genetic mixing doesn't work like paint. Or at least I think it doesn't.


We sailed on to a beach on the northwest side of Santa Cruz, where turtles nest. This was turtle mating season, and the females were coming back to the beaches of their birth. The males were following the females to wherever they went.

As we approached this pristine golden sand beach, chugging through the aqua water, we actually could see about 12 to 15 turtles swimming around in the bay!!!! Even better, there were two turtles on the beach!!! Not laying eggs, they usually do that at night so the nest is hidden. The female turtles come up on the beach and check out the best areas to dig their nests - high enough to be beyond the high tide mark, but close enough to the beach that the hatchlings will have a chance to reach the water before being eaten by the birds or crabs or whatever.
We walked up and down the beach, watching the turtles meet and greet and size each other up, sort of the speed dating of the turtle world. Well, and the speed hooking up and mating of the turtle world too. It was fascinating but also a bit voyeuristic to watch - although I've never seen turtles mating, so it also was difficult to NOT watch as they hugged and wrestled and rolled in the surf. With, apparently, only one thing on their minds.

No, these aren't giant tire tracks on the sand. That's what turtle tracks look like. Some seemed to go right up to the soft sand, where maybe a nest was
dug and the eggs covered up. Other tracks went in circles or along the edge of the bush while mama turtle looked for a good spot. 
The hatchlings will climb out of the nests some time between January and March, the warmest months here in the Galápagos.
It really was one of the most gorgeous, idyllic beaches and bays I've ever seen, with such clean clear aqua water merging into the deep blue, the golden sand, and bright green trees edging the beach. Unfortunately, there were also biting horse flies, so even paradise has its problems.

But it was just postcard perfect!
We motored across the channel between Santa Cruz and Pinzon, which was a bit rough since this is the windward side of the island. We arrived at Pinzon and the Bay of Penguins, but never did see any of the Galápagos penguins.

Apparently this El Niño, being one of the strongest on record, has heated up the water too much for the
comfort of the penguins. They seem to all have moved from their usual little clusters to colder areas of the islands. So no, we didn't see any of the penguins.
But there were seals on the rocks, fish swimming under the boat, turtles surfacing to give us a look, and even a friendly pelican who came by to see if we were good for a free snack.

Everyone went snorkeling except us, and they all came back with blue lips. Even
Fabricio agreed that the water was colder than usual, making us quite happy we opted to stay dry and not freeze in the water.

And none of the
snorkelers saw penguins swimming around, either. Although they saw quite a few sharks. Yeah, one more reason I was okay with not snorkeling. Sharks make me nervous.

It was quite a trip back - once we hit open ocean, the swells were probably 4 to 5 feet (1.3 to 1.6 meters), which we really felt in
the little boat. We'd sweep up to the crest of a wave and then drop and crash into the trough before riding up to the top of the next wave. I enjoy the roller-coaster quality of rough seas, although the occasional slam down into the trough would be a bit much. But Richard feels the motion more than most people, and he wasn't the happiest of sailors on this part of the trip back.

Our captain and guide agreed that it was an unusually rough crossing.

Anyway, we finally got back to Puerto Ayora, and onto warm dry steady land. A relief after rocking and rolling and bouncing our way back.

After having seen the blue-footed boobies close up, I realized that some of the fishing birds we've seen in town are also the blue-footed boobies. They really are fascinating to watch. First, they have a very awkward lift-off from the water - they don't just spread their wings and fly, they kind of run on top of the water while flapping their wings, and it takes a little distance before they actually get up in the air! All I can think is that maybe they have a low center of gravity?

Then a group of boobies flies around, wheeling in one direction or another; then they fly up as a group, one boobie gives a shriek, and as a group they all dive beak first into the water, like synchronized divers in the birdie Olympics. They bounce back up to the surface in a group and sit there, looking around, as the fish who are dazed and confused swim around, and are more easily caught and eaten. I watched them do this over and over again, diving into different areas so the fish wouldn't learn what was going on.

And if you look closely at the booby take-off photos, you can see those little blue webbed feet running on the water!

On the map, I've marked Isla Pinzon with a little blue star. It's to the west of Santa Cruz, but before Isla Isobela (which is the one that looks vaguely like a seahorse). I don't know where the other stops were that we made on Thursday.

But Turtle Love Beach really was the absolute best ever!