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food, family & travel : Savoring all that life has to offer

Miss Therese peels the plantains

“I tell you no lie, its hard work. ” Therese said.  She herded the girls out in the yard with her grandchildren.   “We will call them in when we need them. Right now, you need to help me with those plantains.”  The sticky sweet resin of the skins pulled at my hands like rubber glue.  It made for slippery handling of the fruit inside.

Mark got straight to work.  “Tell me what to do!” he said. She smiled at him and then hugged him. “My sons are the only ones who like to do this. Maybe I adopt you after today.” she smiled.

Therese Castillo, known in Hopkins Belize as “Miss Therese”, lives in the heart of town.  Hopkins is a fishing village on the verge of turning into a full-time tourist destination.  The predominant residents, Belize’s Garifuna people, balance the urge to adapt to the growing economy and a desire to hold fast to the traditions that make them unique. The Garifuna, or Garinagu, claim the distinct heritage  of a direct relationship to the slaves that had been shipwrecked (and survived) on St. Vincent in the 1600’s.  Belize became a  refuge for the Garifuna in the 1800’s, and since that time, Hopkins has sculpted its identity around a mixture of African and Caribbean traditions.

Not the least of these traditions is Garifuna food, the most notable of which is hudut, a fish and coconut stew served with plantain dumplings.

Miss Therese is known in Hopkins for her hudut, and earns a living  cooking and teaching her techniques to locals and visitors alike.

Mark grates the coconut and Miss Therese looks on, wide-eyed.

Amidst a yard filled with chickens, and errant pig, dust, dirt and a load of laughter, Miss Therese pulled a up a chair. “We are going to get tired standing around so we need chairs. we can sit and work.” she said.

Hudut requires a base broth of coconut stew, made from the milk of fresh coconuts, heated gently with onions and garlic.  Grating the coconuts requires a tremendous amount of work, the likes of which turns even the most fit arm into rubber.

“The only way you can get used to it, is by getting used to it!” Miss Therese laughed. Shavings are then mixed with warm water and then the fats and milk are squeezed out.  The liquid is set to the stove.

Fresh fish is seasoned with salt and pepper and cooked in coconut oil.  Therese had made her own and the oil adds a crunch and savory flavor to the fish.

Green and ripe plantains are peeled and steamed, then added to a large mahogany mortar and pestle called a “mata”.  A pinch of salt is added, and then the mixture is beaten to a paste, the consistency of a thick dumpling. “In case your arms weren’t sore enough, just wait until you get working on the mata.” said Therese.  She was right. Each of us had a go, and each of us gave out, our arms burning with muscle spasms. Scoops of the mixture are placed into a bowl, the hot coconut  stew added with a topper of the crisp fish.

“Its best to eat it with your hands.” she said.  We used small pinches of the plantain dumpling like a fork, pulling off bits of fish and dipping them in the coconut stew. The taste is both sweet and savory, creamy and crisp.  It has the best of all earthy flavors and sensations – an ultimate and satisfying dish.

Miss Therese has no phone but is open for business.  She lives across from Thongs Cafe on the main road in Hopkins, Belize.  For $15 BZ., approximately $7.50 per person US.D, you can get a lesson in life, culture, and Garifuna food.    Stop by and ask for the best time of day to take a class, and I promise you, she will say “yes” if she means it, and “no” if she doesn’t have time.  We have sent many people her way, and they have all had a great time.

For more on Garifuna Food or Hudut:

A link by my fellow Road Warrior, Lily Lebawit Girma – http://lilylilyphotography.com/2011/09/adventure-in-hopkins-belize-how-to-make-hudut-like-a-garifuna/

A post on the ever popular, Belize.com website:  http://www.belize.com/belize-cuisine-3.html

Kristin Fuhrmann Simmons


Remember when you were eight years-old?

I do.

I am keenly aware of the freedom that is being “eight”, as I watch my daughter, Ellie.

I am sitting in a hammock, listening to her drum on her belly while she is sitting on her bed in our jungle cabin.  I am outside in a hammock, strapped nice and high so that I get a thrilling swing over the porch.  I can see her through the window: her legs bicycling in the air and she is laughing as she makes different sounds on her body with her hands.

I feel, as often parents do, a series of flash-back moments, when I observe my children doing the things that I did when I was little.  I remember the same drumming on my stomach.  I remember being on vacation and feeling the breeze from the ocean blow the curtains though my bedroom window; the warm air both serene and exciting. I remember feeling real and separate – my own whole person.

I can see from the look in her eyes, she is feeling alive and present.

My family has been with me now for close to two weeks in our adventure in Belize.  After a month’s separation, we are back into a comfortable routine with one another that was strained at the start by the intensity of travel, and our desire to hug and hold one another to remember how much we love each other.

Having them here has been lesson in letting go and holding on.

I want Ellie and Ava both to love Belize.   I see their affection for the country unfolding in ways I had not expected.

I had dived and snorkeled on the reef and thought, “The girls will LOVE this. They will want to jump right in and try it to see all of the cool and exciting undersea life. It is a sure thing!”

They approached the water so differently than I expected.  Ellie was terrified, Ava was a fish. Ellie liked the boat rides, the palm trees and the islands. Ava skirted in the water, jumping in with the turtles and rays.  Ellie drew pictures and collected hermit crabs.  Ava laid back like a starfish and floated.

I hoped they would jump into eat everything.  They have tried everything with some squinched faces and with some pleasant surprises.  Mashed plantain served in garlic coconut soup was a hit.   Shrimp ceviche, (one of my hands-down faves) was a definitive “NO” for the girls, “Too shrimpy! Too Sour!” they said.

Their manners have been impeccable.  Right now as I swing, Ava is helping the proprietor, Jungle Jean, pick flowers and walk her dogs.  I asked Jean if she needed me to get her, Jean replied, “I love having my little Ava.”

Seeing their adventure and discoveries, from fluffy beds and cool swimming pools, to making new friends who share their love of jump-roping, hearing howler monkeys at night, and eating exotic fruits, is awe-inspiring.

Ellie hasn’t stopped jumping and squealing.  Ava is is below, walking with a bunch of hibiscus to be set for dinner service in one hand, and a dog bowl in the other. She has been tasked by Jean to help her feed the hotel’s dogs.

Kristin Fuhrmann-Simmons.