One Magical Day

We left our B&B at Santa Elena after breakfast, ready for a day of adventure in our rented car.  Good thing we were ready because it was one full day.  It seems that everywhere you look in this region you will spot ancient pyramid structures.  The town of Izamal  has 3 of them in the midst of town – it could be right beside a house!

Our first stop was at Labna,  I love the ruins that are so quiet, it allows you to feel the peace, the energy, and to just listen to the birds.  This is one site believed to be very important as it housed around 3,000 Mayans in the 9th centre.  Don’t miss this on the Ruta Puuc as the architecture is truly Puuc style and very interesting.   They were well known for their cisterns, at their peak they had 60 around the city.  As many ruins as we’ve seen I’m always impressed with what they were able to do in ancient times with so few tools.  There is something about wandering around these structures without crowds of people that allows you to feel the vitality of civilizations past.

Kabah 1

Just loved the magnificent old trees, Vivi loved the natural swing!

Kabah 3

Kabah 4

These beautiful structures were spread over quite a large area, and they haven’t even restored it all.  In 2006 they completed the restoration work we were able to see.

Kabah 2

No, we aren’t allowed to climb on the structures, but I think sitting for a photo is okay ……

 

Kabah 6

So many years later, the structural integrity of this building was still intact.  The only restoration needed was in the arch and stairways.  Obviously a brilliant civilization to be able to accomplish all this.

Kabah 8

Kabah 5

Kabah 7

It was hard to tear ourselves away from this beautiful setting. BUT, caves are waiting!

Loltun Caves “Grutas de Loltun” were just down the road, and an amazing experience.  That road though!  After driving miles in the Yucatan it is so refreshing to drive down a road with something to look at – lined with lush orchards, banana and palm groves.

Loltun 1

Yes, we are going down in there.  Some of us under duress.  (no, I’m not looking at you Vivi)

Loltun

It is necessary to take a guided tour through the caves.  Our guide, Ricardo, was full of information, including the fact  that we would only be seeing 2 k of the 10 k trails.  They are very protective of these caves, and understandably so as they are the most important cave system in the Yucatan Peninsula.

Loltun 5

Loltun 6

Can you see why we didn’t want to tell Vivi why we were so far underground?  These stalactites were enormous!  No stalagmites form here as the minerals get washed away during the flooding in rainy season.

Loltun 7

This particular stalactite is hollow!  The cave structure received it’s name from this. When you hit it in one area it makes a “lolllll” sound, and a second area makes the “tunnnnn” …. lollllltunnn.  We were able to replicate this ourselves, and felt the reverberation right through us.

Loltun 8

The light is coming from a hole above.  Mayans didn’t live in this cave structure, but rather used it for worship, or protection from either animals or enemies.  They would also use it to drive animals to it, who would then fall to their death in order to be eaten.  Standing here, surrounded by energies from civilizations past, it was one of those moments both Vivi and I thought would be imprinted on us.

Loltun 9

These hand prints on the walls are just some of the evidence found here – a treasure trove for archeological studies.  Evidence has been found that has been carbon dated to over 2,200 years ago.  That boggles my mind.

Same day, can you even believe it is the same day?  We are off to cenotes.  You know Grant, when we’ve got a rented car it is not going to sit around …..

Just outside of Izamal is a series of cenotes called Santa Barbara.  In the Yucatan peninsula there are over 6,000 cenotes – natural sinkholes.  They are formed when the limestone bedrock, forming the roof of an underground cavern collapses, exposes the ground water underneath.  Not when a meteorite struck as some believe …..

This one in particular is fun to go to, as you can choose to walk between the cenotes, ride a bike, or get pulled by horse on a rail track.  You know with Vivi we are always going to go the horse route, as with Hayley, Sloan and Stella when we were here last.

Cenotes 1

Seated on a cart, these little horses pull us along at a pretty good clip to a series of 3 cenotes.

Cenotes 2

The water is crystal clear and so refreshing.

Cenotes 3

Some cenotes have quite a large opening above to let in light, but others just have an opening large enough to have a ladder going down, and enough room to climb it!

Cenotes 4

This cenote is largely an open area, just look at the roots on the trees above us stretching for water.  In rainy season they are underwater.

At long last we are ready to find a place to stay in Izamal.  Only 70 k from Merida this entire historical district is painted with a bright, vivid yellow giving the city a nickname of “the yellow city”.  This is a beautifully quiet little place, lovely to walk around.  Right next to a home you might see the remains of a pyramid.  The town centre has 3 pyramids around it that are easily accessible.

We found an amazing little B&B to stay at.  Juan and his staff were amazingly friendly and attentive.  Not only was the place a beautiful spot to relax, it was quirky enough to have us wandering around looking at it all!

Izamal 2

This Franciscan monastery is at the centre of town.  There are so many images of Mayan gods in the town, on the ruins, that it provoked the Spaniards to build this large structure overlooking Izamal.

Izamal

 

Izamal 3

These beautiful little carts and dressed up horses are available to use as a taxi, or to just have a tour of the area.

Izamal 5

We loved this beautiful little spot!  Viv and Wilson had the blue bungalow, and we had the pink.

Izamal 1

The owner, Juan, was very friendly.  This is the jungle room, and the entire room is painted like this!  Incredible to view, but I’m not sure how restful ….. I might have been apprehensive about getting attacked!

Kinich .JPG

And ….. that’s a wrap on a simply magical day.  We finished at Kinich Restaurant, traditional Yucatecan food.  This dish of chicken on a white bean puree, with tomato and nut sauce was lip smacking good.  That glass of green hovering on the edge of the photo is a Chaya drink, an herb somewhat like spinach.  Delicious and refreshing.

Time to return the rental car to Merida, so we headed to Progresso first for lunch, and a search for some flamingo winter resting grounds.  We did find them but not close enough to be photo worthy.  In spite of that, we loved seeing them in the mangrove – so beautiful and graceful.  This was the moment I wished for a real camera instead of my phone! Maybe someday.

Progresso 3

The 7 km pier at Progresso is ready to welcome cruise ships …….eek.

Progresso 2

I don’t understand why Mike hasn’t insisted I get a selfie stick yet.  Maybe because he knows Grant won’t carry it?

Progresso 1

Crabster Restaurant – how’s this for a mile high crab & shrimp burger?

After this we returned the car to Merida, staying for one night at a slightly sketchy hotel with a quirky host …… Grant blocked the doorway with his pack!  Funniest part was trying to find it, we got to the right address but no hotel.  So off we went, walking down the road with our bags.  Eventually I phoned the hotel and got an English accented Canadian who said “oh, are you the people with bags that were at the door”????  Should have been our first clue and kept us walking but it all adds to the adventure.  Or, so I tell myself.  Its time to hit the beach.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mexico City bites

We arrive in Mexico City late, and won’t even be there for 24 hours before flying out to Tuxtla ….. this presents a real dilemma for us, requiring us to narrow down the places we eat.  We’ve eaten our way through CDMX more than a few times, and on a restricted time frame, but this will be the shortest eating walking, walking in order to eat stop.  EEK.  I’m already dreaming of the places to quickly stop for a bite.

cdmx churro

Churros are a natural start for us!  This place, El Morro, is one of the oldest Churreria spots in the city, and they are delicious.  It is usually easy to get a table early in the day, but you should see the lineups late afternoon and into the night!

cdmx el morro churro

Next head to a mercado – the food is always amazing in the markets, and once we’ve had our coffee and churro it is time for a savoury bite ….. how about carnitas?  These tacos are mouth watering pork goodness.

cdmx carnitas 2

Every bit of the pork is waiting to be chopped up and served in a taco.  We loved the tortillas they made at this stand, they have fresh herbs in the tortilla masa and added so much flavour.

cdmx carnitas 1

No shortage of amazing toppings for your taco.

cdmx carnitas

It’s hard to only eat a couple of tacos at this place, but so many more steps and bites to come …

cdmx fruit

Time to lighten things up a bit …. how about some fruit?  These cups of fruit and vegetables are available everywhere and bursting with freshness.

cdmx fruit 2

Look for these vendors on the streets – you can choose whatever you want in your cup!

cdmx mango

Don’t miss the mango!

cdmx peruvian ceviche

How about a little ceviche next?  So refreshing and absolutely delicious.

cdmx walk

When you walk this much, your little 5 year old legs need a boost from big sister …..

cdmx la docena

La Docena – our favourite oyster bar.  These blue crab tostada’s with habanero foam are the bomb!  Served with a crisp white from the Baja region its a perfect bite.

cdmx la docena 1

cdmx la docena 2

Crunchy oyster croutons served with fresh greens and creamy avocado – love this salad.

cdmx dessert

Save room for dessert – these pastries are a great way to finish off a day.

Less than a day to eat, so many bites waiting …… we will get off that plane with an appetite and start walking!

 

Halibut Veracruzana

halibut veracruzana

This is one of those recipes that is more a guideline.  Inspired by the flavours of fish we’ve had served in the style of Veracruz in Mexico, this is so easy to prepare at home, and if you have a good source of fish, give it a try!

You will need:

  • enough fish to feed your family (I’ve used halibut here but any white fish will work)
  • green olives
  • fresh tomatoes
  • black olives
  • capers
  • roasted red peppers
  • fresh red peppers
  • your best olive oil
  • lemon
  • sea salt & pepper

Generously butter a baking dish (extra points for using a pretty one that you can also serve this dish in!)

Lay in your fish, cut in serving size.

Chop the olives, peppers and fresh tomato, and then cover your fish with all the toppings.  Again, be generous with seasoning – liberally sprinkling salt and pepper over it all.  Then – squeeze a whole lemon and drizzle olive oil over the top.

Roast at 375 just until fish flakes nicely.  This will entirely depend on the thickness of your fish, so watch it carefully and check after 10 minutes.

Serve over rice, with a bright, crunchy salad on the side.  Add crusty bread to soak up those juicy drippings and you’ve got a quick easy dinner good enough for company.

Tossed Salad

Grilled Cauliflower & Shrimp with Romesco Dipping Sauce

Cauliflower & Shrimp with Romescu

Grilling the shrimp in the shell protects them from the searing heat of the barbecue, and is definitely worth doing.  Serve this as an appetizer and nobody minds getting in with their hands!

 

romescu

Go ahead and make a big batch of this, it goes really well with any cooked fish or chicken dish.

Romesco Sauce:

  • 1 jar (300 mL) roasted red peppers , including juices
  • 1/4 cup prepared tomato sauce
  • 3 tablespoons almond butter or 1/4 cup toasted slivered almonds
  • 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Romesco Sauce: In blender, purée together red peppers including juices, tomato sauce, almond butter, vinegar, paprika and cayenne pepper until smooth. Season to taste with salt, if needed.  Transfer to small saucepan, and set aside.

  • 1 head cauliflower , cut in large florets
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 450 g unpeeled jumbo shrimp (21 to 25 count)
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 bunch green onions

Shrimp and Vegetables: Plunge cauliflower pieces into boiling salted water for just about 2-3 minutes, and then immediately drop into ice water bath.

This can easily be turned into a vegetarian dish by omitting the shrimp, just use an assortment of vegetables.

In bowl, toss together shrimp, oil and remaining salt.

Thread shrimp onto metal or soaked wooden skewers. Place shrimp and cauliflower on greased grill over medium-high heat; close lid and grill, turning once, until shrimp are pink and cauliflower is charred, about 8 minutes. Add green onions during last 3 minutes of grilling.

Heat Romesco Sauce, stirring frequently until warm, 1 to 2 minutes. Serve cauliflower, shrimp and green onions on large platter with sauce on the side for dipping.  Add some crusty fresh French bread and you’ve got a great appetizer!

Fajita Seasoning

Fajita Seasoning 1

Having this seasoning mix on hand makes dinner easy breezy!  (lemon squeezy??) Make a double batch and you can keep it for months in a cool, dry spot.  Use it on vegetables, fish or meat alike, these flavours go so well together and make dinner quick and simple.

  • 1 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (or to taste)
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper

How easy is this? just toss it all into a bowl and thoroughly mix.  Do yourself a favour and make lots.

Fajita Seasoning

Just looking at this, you can tell it’s tasty, right??

This works with anything your imagination can come up with …. salad dressing or vegetable dip or seafood bake …. you let me know if you come up with more!

 

For fajitas:

  • protein (or not to make it vegetarian)
  • onions
  • peppers

 

To make fajitas, simply generously sprinkle slivered chicken (or any meat, seafood of your choice) and toss in fry pan until just cooked through.

Cook sliced peppers and onions separately so they don’t overcook.

Serve with:

  • lime crema (sounds fancy, but it’s just a squeeze of lime juice with sour cream and a bit of salt)
  • salsa
  • avocado
  • lime wedges
  • chopped cilantro
  • toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
  • tortillas

You can so easily turn this into what is crazy popular right now,  power bowls!  Just serve with cooked quinoa or grain of your choice.

Turn it into a sheet pan dinner, also featured everywhere right now, just generously sprinkle everything with the seasoning and toss it into a hot oven (?400?).

Yes, you are welcome, you didn’t know dinner could be so quick, easy, healthy and delicious, did you???

 

Tartar Sauce

 

Tartar Sauce 1

I got this recipe from one of Ina Garten’s collections, and it is certainly my go to.  It can’t be much easier, which is always a good thing.  Just through everything into a food processor and give it a good whiz.  Set in fridge to allow the flavours to develop and you are done.  Of course, if you don’t have a small food processor, just chop and blend by hand, still an easy tartar sauce recipe.

  • 1/2 cup good mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons small-diced pickles or cornichons
  • 1 tablespoon Champagne or white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon capers
  • 1 teaspoon coarse-grained mustard
  • Pinch kosher salt
  • Pinch freshly ground black pepper

Tartar Sauce

The BEST Crab Artichoke Dip

I’m not kidding you guys.  This dip is delicious, so make sure you get in there before your guests have consumed it all!

Crab Artichoke Dip 3

If you want a little “kick” stir in finely diced jalapeño chilies or chili flakes.

  • 1 8 oz block cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tsp Old Bay seasoning
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp horseradish
  • 1 tin good quality crab meat
  • 1 diced roasted sweet red pepper
  • 1 14 oz container artichoke hearts (diced)
  • 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar (I like white)
  • 1/4 cup finely sliced green onion or chives
  • 1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • salt & pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Cream together the cream cheese, mayonnaise and sour cream … then add the Old Bay seasoning, Worcestershire, & horseradish.  Give this mixture a good blend, I like to use my hand held blender for this to make sure it is all smooth and creamy.  If you do this before you add the rest of the ingredients all your flavouring will be evenly distributed before you stir in the rest.

Crab Artichoke Dip 1

Gently fold in the diced roasted red pepper, diced artichoke hearts, shredded cheese, sliced onion and lemon juice.  Stir carefully at this point so you keep all the distinct colours and textures.  Lastly stir in the crab meat and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Crab Artichoke dip 2

 

Bake at 350 for 20 minutes until it is bubbling.  Serve with crackers or sliced baguette, and stand back …. watch the crowd go wild.