Saturday, April 07, 2012

Day Five: Resting and Cooking

Thursday was our first rest day. It was nice to just get up and not rush out anywhere. When everyone was finally up and dressed we joined our neighbours for breakfast at Cafe Condesa which again had been recommended. My first coffee in a week .... mmm.

The quirky little gift shop in the courtyard near the cafe provided some lovely non-traditional Guatemalan made items (you do get to the point where the sight of yet another weaving makes you want to scream).

Miss M wanted another braid so we all whiled away some time overlooking Parque Central while a girl of 10 or 12 very nimbly did the braiding.

Jay wanted to explore the giant souvenir emporium around the corner but the children were getting ratty so I took them home in a tuk tuk (how much do the kids love these crazy, bone rattling tuk tuk rides - I'm sure if we could smuggle one home with us they would be ecstatic).

Will vegged out with his iPod while Marianna went in search of Tamarindo. I did some blogging until Jay returned home and it was time for my cooking class at Frijol Feliz inside Cafe Flor.

I loved walking into town on my own. Antigua was starting to feel like "home". I was comfortable and relaxed, walking along a new street previously unexplored.

At Cafe Flor I was greeted with a cold drink and introduction to the other class participant, Forrest from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. What an interesting man, traveling the world solo between day jobs researching food for a cookbook and restaurant idea. He had just done 4,500 miles in a bus across southern US and through Mexico - not for the feint hearted.

We exchanged stories until it was time for our lesson. We made four things, the only recipe name I can remember is Tamales. We also made a dish which consisted of thin slices of a vegetable similar to a choko, a bit larger and with dark green skin. These were par boiled and when cool had slices of a cheese similar to haloumi sandwiched between two pieces. These were then dipped in a light egg batter (egg whites whipped to peaks then the yolks quickly beaten in) and shallow fried. Simple but yum.

These were made while the Tamales were being prepared because they are quite an involved process: the sauce (delicious!!), the corn mixture which has a number of steps include a very long cooking (and stirring) time plus the actual steaming time once the mixture is prepared and wrapped in the banana leaves. Let's not mention the cooling/firming time which took forever.

Then we made a fruit drink which was served hot (as it would be traditionally at Christmas) but would have been nicer chilled, with a good splash of rum, as a party punch.

Dessert was small flat cakes, cut in half, filled with a simple custard, coated in a similar whipped egg batter and fried, then soaked in a sugar syrup. Nice enough but generally too sweet for me.

The cooking was done in the kitchen of Cafe Flor, a Thai restaurant. To say this commercial kitchen is basic is the understatement of the year. No hot water, no dishwasher, a washing up sink smaller than in my en suite (how they managed the pots in there is beyond me), very basic benchtops, battered old pots and pans, no deep fryers or rice cookers. Diabolical to the eyes of a gadget junkie like me.

But when it comes to cooking the gadgets are just a fun extra, all can be achieved with skill and dexterity. Our demonstrating chef was the lovely Gaby (the OH&S coordinator in me balked at her footwear choice - flimsy flip-flops) and we had the translating assistance of the chef/manager whose name escapes me. My new friend Forrest spoke decent Spanish so he was able to help when necessary.

When all the dishes were prepared we sat outside in their lovely courtyard and sampled our creations. I loved the Tamales though I'm not sure I could deal with the number of steps required to achieve a good result. The sauce however is simple and so good I will definitely be making it to use with other dishes.

We said our goodbyes and I went out into 4. Calle which had been quiet when I had entered but now, at about 6:00 pm, was teeming with people. Thursday night is a big one on the Holy Week calendar and that street as well as the surrounding ones and Parque Central were crazy busy.

I found a spot to wait for Jay, the kids and our new friends who were walking in to meet me for dinner. We found a nice place where we could eat and occasionally peek out at the passing parade. The kids wanted helado on the way home but mysteriously all the pre-packaged helado vendors had disappeared and I refused to buy the Mr Whippy style ones (having had a disastrous encounter with one earlier in the week). So we found a frozen yoghurt place which did the job.

Another fun day and almost our last in beautiful Antigua.

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