February 14, 2007

A Busy Time in Zihuatanejo

Hi Everyone,

We hope you all have a Happy Valentine's day!

We also hope you are having an enjoyable winter wherever you are. We catch some of the weather reports for the states. It does not always sound pretty.

When we last gave you a major update, we were in Las Hadas about to depart for Zihuatanejo. Our weather report was for 10 to 15 Knots from the North West. That would have been good...in fact perfect. We would have a great sail.

What we encountered instead was 20 to 25 Knots on the nose with short choppy seas. This is not good. It would slow us down considerably and not be comfortable. We decided to turn around and go back to Las Hadas. The other 5 boats that left that morning returned also. The flowing day we had light winds from astern...a better trip, but not enough wind to sail.

During this 190 mile motor sail we had plenty of dolphin company, a few whales and a big group of turtles. We did not immediately recognize the turtles. At first I thought it was a marker for some long liners or big floating coconuts. They must have been sleeping. They were not active and didn't even wave. Sorry to say we did not have any nibbles on our fishing lines.

There were a few areas that must be good for the long line fishermen though. We saw a dozen or so long lines on our passage between Las Hadas and Zihuatanejo and about the same number on our way back.

Each long line can be 2 miles or more long. Every 30 to 40 feet along the main line is a 10 to 20 foot leader with bait. The main line is supported by empty 2 liter soda bottles used as floats. The whole assembly typically has a black flag at each end with a panga in attendance. If we can see the long line in time and if we can see the end flag, we try to go around.

Most of the time the main line sinks a little. So as long as the motor is off (I think they call that sailing!) or in neutral we can carefully pass over a section - aiming for halfway between the soda bottle floats. Unfortunately, we have found some lines floating just under the surface.

Coming north from Zihuatanejo we managed to pass over one of these long lines but caught 3 of our 4 hand fishing lines on it. That made it necessary for us put the engine in neutral (there was no wind at the moment) and pull in our lines which pulled Raptor Dance backwards to the long line (we use 200 pound test line). Then we were able to unhook our lines. Funny, we decided to do without our fishing lines for the rest of this trip.

After one overnight we arrived in Zihuatanejo the following morning, just a bit tired. Zihuatanejo looked very different than it did in the early 1980's when I had been there before. It was still charming but much more busy and had greatly spread out. Plus cruise ships come in 3 times a week. Those cruise ship cruisers do not spend much time in town though. It is very convenient to provision your boat. The local mercado (farmers market) and the big "Commercial" (a large chain store) are nearby.

A local fellow, Nathaniel was available at one spot in the beach to help dingy's land and exit the surf. It amounted to valet parking for dingys. Very handy.

Another enterprising Mexican, Ishmael would bring fuel, water, drinks, etc to the boat plus take care of picking up and delivering your laundry. He and his wife were kept busy with the 100+ boats in the anchorage.

There are plenty of palapas and other restaurants available. One of Zihuatanejo's specialties is pozole, in red, green or white variety. This is a hominy based soup with lots of other goodies, very tasty. The green is our favorite.

Playa las Gatos was the snorkeling location across Zihuatanejo bay with cleaner water, a variety of fish and a nicely located palapa at the point. It was good to be back in the water. If we return to Zihuatanejo we'll anchor at Playa la Ropa with an additional stern anchor. It is further from town but the water is cleaner. And the stern anchor reduces the effect of the swell.

The big event was Sail Fest see: http://www.zihuasailfest.com/ - a four day program to raise money for the local schools and school children. It is a very worthwhile cause.

Rick's Bar was cruiser central and the center of action for activities included registering (paying a fee, signing up for volunteer activities, and receiving tee shirts), chili cook off, seminars, school kids beach party, beach pot luck, local music artists CD, seminar CDs, musicians performance at the Blue Mamou, raffles, auctions, soliciting local businesses and cruisers for donations for the raffles or just money, and a boat parade from Ixtapa to Zihuatanejo (carrying paying passengers). Needless to say, we could not be involved in every event. It would have been overwhelming.

While Bill was giving a seminar on Marine and Ham SSB Radio, Winlink, Sailmail and computers (handout posted at http://raptordance.com/sailfest.pdf ) - I went to visit the present school, the new school site and the one school that has already been build from Z Fest money. The present school is made from scrap lumber. The floor boards are flexible and the ground is eroding. So the school is now perched on edge of the eroding hillside. But the children seem happy, energetic and very anxious to learn. Depending on the money that comes in, those with the best grades are given a scholarship to be able to continue their education. At present it costs $250 for one child's school expenses for one year.

The one school that was already built is very basic but built to last. $85,000 was raised this year. That will allow the new school project to begin.

We entered the chili competition. Bill and I created a great chili recipe and cooked a great chili. In fact we won! There were 17 entrants, some cruisers and local restaurants. We've posted he recipe on our website. So feel free to try it yourself. Our friends Linda Frakes and Marie and Don from Freezing Rain helped us serve.

The following day we moved to the small island outside the Bay, Isla Grande, aka Isla Ixtapa. It was a good plan. Because of the "nutrient rich" environment in Zihuatanejo Bay and the local temperature (10 degrees hotter than Barra) it is a very active marine growth area. In other words, our chain, prop and the bottom of the boat needed a good cleaning. In just 10 days there was so much growth on our prop that it slowed our motoring speed by 2 knots, as we went to Isla Grande. As we scrubbed the bottom, this small cove became packed with power boats from Ixtapa and a few more sail boats. But by 6PM all of the day boats were gone.

With a clean bottom we headed north the next morning. "Light and variable winds" turned out to be more "noserly" winds and choppy seas. So besides a rollicking ride, lots of salt water over the boat and the snagging of the long line (previously mentioned) it was a fine ride. Once we turned past Punta San Telmo it calmed enough to sleep well.

It was wonderful returning to Las Hadas, our friends on Liberty and Fafner, the hotel pool and a Pechugón pollo dinner. That's the place with the great roasted chicken and potatoes.

We waited to get to Barra to clean off the salt deposits on the boat and up the mast - we had thick deposits everyone on the boat. I wonder if there's a market for "Raptor Dance Sal de Mer"?

Refreshed with a full night's sleep we continued onto Barra Navidad the next morning, accompanied by 2 humpback whales (pod a du?). It was a calm and short passage back to Marina Isla Navidad.

We do love the variety anchorages and marinas provide.

We hope your lives are full of variety too, whatever direction you take.

Warmest Regards,
Mary and Bill

February 12, 2007

Raptor Red Top of the Food Chain Chili Recipe

This is our Chili recipe that won the Chili Cook Off at Sail Fest in Zihuatanejo on Saturday, Feb 3, 2007. It's a flavorful red beef chili with a deep flavor and pleasant back heat.

This is quite a different Chili than our team prepared at Paradise Village in Nuevo Vallarta which won the competition in December 2006.

This recipe is fairly complex and should be prepared at least a day ahead to allow the flavors to blend. It freezes and reheats well. Serve with a dollop of Toasted Cumin Crema (recipe below).

You will need to do a lot of tasting as you go along to get the best results.

The pot is important. It should be big enough to hold the whole batch. The pot should also have a thick bottom to spread the heat so the chili doesn't burn.

We don't have a big pot on board and borrowed one from fellow cruisers. It was fairly thin metal, so we used a flame spreader.

We used 2 separate fry pans to toast or sweat (lower heat than a sauté) the components before adding to them to the pot.

The following makes approximately 2 gallons of Chili.



The Meat:

The meat is very important. You want a flavorful cut of beef with some connective tissue. Chuck is preferred. Flank steak or skirt steak are also fine. We used 3 Kilos (7 pounds) of un-marinated Arrachara, Mexican skirt steak.

Cut the meat into cubes (do not use ground meat). For meal or side dish sized servings, cut into 1/2 inch cubes. For competition sized (tiny) servings, cut into 3/8 inch cubes. Season the beef with salt and pepper.

The Chili Molé (gravy):

We selected a variety of dried and fresh chilies at the local market. If you're not familiar with the chilies, you should taste a sliver of each (after toasting and rehydration of the dried ones) to help you balance the flavor. You may need to use more or less of each based on their size and flavor.

A good guide to identifying chilies can be found on the web at http://www.chillisgalore.co.uk/pages/varietys1.html

Dried Chilies (possibly more of each if small, buy extras):
2 Chipotlé
3 Ancho
4 Pasilla
5 Cascabel
4 New Mexican
3 Guajillo

Remove the seeds and stems from the dried chilies. Then toast the dried chilies (except the chipotles) in a dry pan until fragrant, be careful not to burn.

Pour boiling water over the toasted chilies and allow to rehydrate 30 minutes.

Scrape the meat off the skin of the chipotles and cascabeles (or any other thick skinned chilies) and put in a blender. Do not use their skins. Thin skin chilies can be added directly to the blender.

Add water to the blender to cover. Taste the chili soaking water and use it if not bitter. Blend until smooth.

This should produce around 1 liter of a very thick sauce.

The Aromatics:

3 Poblano chilies, seeded and diced
2 Jalapeño chilies, seeded and diced
3 to 4 Large Red Onions, finely diced
1/2 cup of chopped garlic

Other Ingredients:

* Olive Oil
3 bottles of dark beer, we used Indio
5 Oz of dark, semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
3 14 1/2 oz cans of chopped tomatoes
1 6 oz can of tomato paste
3 14 1/2 cans of black beans, drained
3 Tbsp ground cumin

Ingredients to balance taste and consistency:

* Beef Broth
* Fresh lime juice
* Sweetener (maple syrup, honey or Agave nectar)
* Fresh grated nutmeg
* Salt and pepper
* Hot Sauce or Salsa



Add approximately 1 Tsp Olive Oil in your frying pan (we had 2 pans going at the same time) and brown the beef in small batches.

Do not crowd the pan. You want to brown the beef not steam it, do not burn the beef. When the surface of the beef cubes has a deep brown color, Add the batch of beef to your pot.

Between batches, deglaze the frying pan with some of the beer, reduce slightly and add to the pot.

When all the beef is done, add 1 Tsp of Olive Oil to the pan(s) and sweat the aromatics. Season with salt as you add each aromatic.

Start with the fresh Chilies, sweat 2 or 3 minutes until fragrant (be careful of the fumes), add the onions, sweat for 2 minutes more, then add the garlic and sweat for another 1 minute. Add to the pot.

Add a little olive oil to your empty fry pan and add the can of tomato paste. Cook, stirring frequently until the paste takes on a rust color (1 to 2 minutes). Add to the pot, use beer to get all the tomato paste out of the pan and add to the pot.

Now add the Chili Molé, chocolate, chopped tomatoes, remaining beer, ground cumin and black beans to the pot.

Note - REAL Chili does not have beans in it! You can omit them and have a heartier chili. We added them to extend the recipe for the contest and because we like the taste.

Bring the pot up to a gentle simmer. Stir frequently to prevent burning and to blend completely. Simmer at least 2 hours until the meat is tender, but still has a little bite to it.

During the cooking, you should taste the chili and add the following ingredients:

* Beef Broth - as needed to reduce thickness
* Fresh lime juice - as needed to increase the brightness of the chili
* Sweetener (maple syrup, honey or Agave nectar) - as needed to balance the flavor
* Fresh grated nutmeg - as needed to add flavor complexity
* Salt and pepper - to taste
* Hot Sauce or Salsa to increase heat

When plating, add a dollop of Toasted Cumin Crema to each serving.


Toasted Cumin Crema (also prepare a day ahead to meld flavors):

1 Tbsp cumin seeds
1 Cup Mexican crema or creme fraiche
* salt and pepper to taste

Place the cumin seeds in a dry sauté or fry pan over medium heat. Toast until lightly golden brown and fragrant, do not burn.

Place in a small bowl, stir in the crema and season with salt and pepper to taste. To dispense, put in a squeeze bottle with a big enough nozzle to not clog with the seeds.