Belize is a happy place.The people are nice, the landscape is gorgeous, the food is tasty. The water is warm, the beach is clean and the seafood is delicious. When our party of six traveled to see the mayan ruins, the ceremonial caves and the piles of conch shells on the sea floor, we saw (and heard!) Howler Monkeys, manatees, iguanas, sharks and crocodiles. We experienced true pitch black in the caves, adventurous 4-wheel driving on the "roads" and tasted Belikin Beer. Deserving of the saying oft said on our trip, it was unBelizeable.
Our adventure started at the Frances Ford Coppola Blancaneaux Lodge in the mountains near Guatamala. We walked, swam, canoed, hiked and biked to our hearts content, then slept with fresh mountain air and the sounds of the raging river soothing us to sleep.
From the mountains, we traveled across the Hummingbird Highway, making a pit-stop to pick up a supply of our new favorite salsa, Marie Sharps, from the factory before landing at our beachfront destination, Turtle Inn.
It was at Turtle Inn that we met Martin. Martin had been born 43 years prior at the Munich Olympics where his Dad was competing as a pentathlete for Holland. When we met Martin's Dad, who told us of his son born at the Olympic Village amidst other lively conversations and stories, we understood where Martin got his affable charm and European bad-boy good looks. Martin's role as the General Manager of our Belizian beach hotel suited him perfectly. You couldn't cast his character in our fantasy vacation any more perfectly.
The night we arrived to Turtle Inn was New Years Eve. Martin showed up looking ever-so-dapper in his boy-cut jacket that oozed wealthy elegance, pouring champagne for everyone and enjoying his role as host. Our oceanfront table was lively and celebratory, especially once Martin showed up with Thai Candles for each of us to light sending off our wishes for the new year into the night sky. His excitement was infectious and joy was evident in his face. Martin was someone who enjoyed life and seemed to find Belize a perfect place to enact that enjoyment.
I mean, where else on earth is there a shellphone in each room, connecting you to the front desk? Yes, a shellphone. An actual huge conch shell mounted on a platform that you talk into after pushing a button for service. Or silent movies playing in the dining room complete with bags of buttery popcorn as appetizers. Or stacks of board games to play at the huge palapa by the beach, which also serves as the bar. Or hammocks lining the beach, strung between the same palm trees where the staff shimmy up to get coconuts for your bar drinks. Or lobsters as large as small dogs. Belize is fantasy at its finest.
When leaving paradise at the end of our stay, Martin was there to say goodbye and wish us safe travels. I took the opportunity and grabbed it with both hands. I expressed my thanks, smiled my warmest appreciation, looked him in the eyes and asked, "Do you think I could get a couple of recipes from the chef."
Martin took the information and said he would try. Having come across a few smooth-talking playboys like Martin in my days, expectation was low that I would ever receive my requested recipes. Those debonair types usually forget you the minute you leave their sight, focusing their wily charm on the next victim. But I was wrong about Martin.
Much to my surprise, I received an email just days later, with the recipes I had requested. There was no chef name to credit. Not even a restaurant or hotel name on the email. Just a list of ingredients and short instructions. All the better. Some things are just better left unsaid.
"Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living." - Dr. Seuss
Martin's UnBelizeable Salsa de Cilantro
1 T vegetable oil 1/2 onion, roughly chopped 2 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole 4 cups lightly packed cilantro (1 large bunch) 2 cups water 1/4 cup heavy cream 1/2 tsp salt 1/4 tsp pepper 1/8 tsp red pepper flakes (optional) Serve with grilled fish
Add oil to large heated pan and sauté onions about 3 minutes or until soft. Add garlic and cilantro and stir until cilantro is completely wilted. Add water, cream, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes to pan and simmer for 5-7 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit 5 minutes then puree in blender. The sauce is very thin and light so can be served in a large pour over mild grilled fish. For a how-to on grilling fish, go to Fisherboy's Fresh Fish.
***** Note: This recipe was adapted from a dish served at the Blancaneaux Lodge in Belize.