Saturday, May 28, 2011

Macadamia Nut Farms and How They Benefit Guatemala

Guatemala is mainly known for its coffee farms, but I had heard of many macadamia farms around Antigua and decided to do more research.
This travel blog photo's source is TravelPod page: Eco-Friendly Macadamia Nut Farm
Apparently, the people who founded the Valhalla Macadamia farm, (close to the Panajachel outside of Antigua) have a wider vision for the macadamia than just exportation. Here is a quote that states their vision better than I could ever paraphrase:
 "The potential of the Macadamia tree as an environmentally friendly alternative to slash and burn agriculture is incredible. For example, if you compare the Macadamia tree with a pine tree, the tree most often used in reforestation projects in Guatemala, you will see that the Macadamia tree, thanks to its broad leaves, has the capacity to convert more carbon dioxide to oxygen than the pine needles can. For every pound of nut meats we take one pound of carbon out of the air. The Macadamia tree converts sixty three cubic feet of carbon dioxide and releases 55 gallons of water vapor into the atmosphere every day. Most importantly, the Macadamia tree is an economically favorable tree, a food source, and firewood for cooking. It is environmentally friendly, but it can also provide the indigenous communities an income."

Macadamia Oil Deep Repair Mask, 8.5 ounces Jar
This farm mainly uses macadamia nuts for the oils to create cosmetics: lotions, soaps, oils, and some edible products as well. I found macadamia nut butter for sale from this farm. Many people who have visited have commented on their sustainable and non-toxic farming methods. Erica from Travelpod says: "The farm grows completely organic macadamia nuts.  We saw the plants they grow to make natural pesticides, boil in water, which is then used to spray the trees and keeps insects from feeding on." 

 And others comment on their commitment to use the macadamia trees to improve the lives of people in Guatemala. According to one of the farm's tourists at
"Valhalla gives baby trees away to indigenous farmers, 100 trees per family because that is how many one family can care for A tree matures in 8 years, but it will produce some nuts before that. One tree produces 150 lb. of nuts per year, but ¾ of the weight is shells. They could eventually get $1000 per year in income from them."

Macadamia nuts dry out here
This travel blog photo's source is TravelPod page: Eco-Friendly Macadamia Nut Farm
Next up: I want to take a tour of this farm! I would love to eventually have the land to plant some macadamia trees, though maybe not 100. Also, I want to try macadamia butter.

I appreciate the way these people have found a solution to several problems at once; slash-and-burn farming, income for Guatemalan families, non-toxic pest solutions and of course, the delicious and useful products from the nuts themselves.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Indigenous Guatemalan Men's Clothing

While the indigenous men's clothing in Guatemala is disappearing at a much faster pace than the indigenous women's clothing, it is still visible, especially in the smaller towns. Jeans shipped from the north have rapidly replaced the hand-woven textiles that formed pants or shorts identifying each man's region and heritage. Sometimes, instead of being replaced, a unique compromise occurs with Mayan textiles and Western patterns.

Another example of that is this heavily (and heavy!) embroidered-collared shirt necessary for warmth in the mountains of Todos Santos, Huehuetenango.

Apparently this is a topic many people who study indigenous people are interested in. There are many museums and universities out there with a ton of information on the different types of influences of Western culture on the Mayan indigenous dress, male and female. One university museum who has researched this topic is the Sam Noble Museum from the University of Oklahoma. The Sam Noble Museum's website says:
"This man's shirt from Todos Santos Cuchumatan, Guatemala, shows the influence of Western style in its chest pocket and machine stitching. Also, it is worn with pants largely of Western design; the pants are fitted rather than loose and have a waistband and beltloops, features absent in the older styles of pants."

They go on to say: "In many ways, though, this outfit remains true to the traditional clothing styles for this Mayan community.

The fabric of the shirt is woven on a backstrap loom, the cuffs and collar are heavily brocaded, and like most traditional shirts, it has no buttons."

Ball caps are rampant, but the hand-woven sombreros with textile bands are still very common.

While it is hard to reconcile "Western" rules of matching to Guatemalan textiles that are worn together, there is no denying that they are wildly vibrant and colorful!

Though most Guatemalan men have switched to the cheaper, less labor-intensive Western clothing shipped down from the States, others proudly wear their indigenous clothing and identify with their ancestry through it. According to the Sam Noble Museum website: "Even within a community where men and women both continue to wear traditional styles of clothing, these styles are different and reflect the sexual division of labor. There are only a few villages where men continue to wear traditional clothing, and oftentimes they continue to do so to demonstrate their pride in being Mayan. By far, villages where men and women both continue to wear traditional styles of clothing, such as Todos Santos Cuchumatan, San Juan Atitan, and Santiago Atitlan, are exceptions to the rule. Men of these villages are instantly recognizeable because of their distinctive clothing styles."

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Horchata: A Central American rice drink

When I saw the English translation for "Horchata" was "Orgeat" on the B&B version of the condensed drink, I had to look it up. I've never heard that word before. The definition according to Merriam-Webster was: a sweet almond-flavored nonalcoholic syrup used as a cocktail ingredient or food flavoring. That's not at all what horchata is today, but after researching I found that in the past almonds actually were an ingredient.

According to, "Horchata is a traditional Central American rice drink that blends ground rice, cinnamon and sugar into a delicious and milky result. The Spaniards brought this drink to the new world, where they replaced the traditional ground melon seeds with squash seeds, and later with rice and almonds. The rice was traditionally ground with a "metate y mano," an old Mayan-style mortar and pestle. More modern, less ambitious methods use a blender."

I've never seen horchata made with anything other than the following ingredients:

(Uncooked) White Rice 1-2 cups
Cinnamon sticks (3 to 4)

If you would like the "less ambitious" method, here is a recipe:

1. Get your blender and put about 1-2 cups of your uncooked white rice in your blender, you'll need the lid on there because you don't want rice flying everywhere.

2. Now you're going to add about 3 cups of water to your blender (depending on the size of your blender, you want the water to be 2/4 to your rice). Now you are going to blend the water and the rice all together. Do this for about 1-2 minutes to make sure everything mixes all together.

3. Now that you have all this mixed together let you blender sit in your fridge with the rice for about 1 to 2 hours, this will assure that the flavors from the rice stick to the water so when it is time to take the rice out the rice flavor is still there..Also let your cinnamon sticks sit along with your rice water. If you use powdered cinnamon in there, use about half a cup of cinnamon.
You can adjust the tastes to your liking.

4. When 1-2 hours have passed you are going to get a colander and drain the rice out. You can transfer the water into your pitcher now.

5. Now you add about 1 cup of sugar. Make sure you taste your Horchata and make sugar and cinnamon adjustments if it needs to be sweeter. Here you will now need about 2-3 cups of milk. The milk is what brings the whole Horchata together.
Add ice and you have yourself a cool summer Central American beverage.

If you would like an even less ambitious version of this drink, buy the concentrated version, (B&B is one of the best) and just mix with the ratio of one cup of concentrate to 12 cups of water. Make sure you use cold water or it will make a clumpy, stringy mess. Chill and drink!

This is one of our daughter's favorite drinks! If you are very hungry and have to wait to eat, this beverage will make you feel full for a little while, so go easy if you drink it with a meal.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Guatemalan Mothers and Mother's Day

If you are a mother in the States, Happy Mother's Day to you today! If you would like to claim another day to celebrate, you can celebrate Guatemalan Mother's Day with us Tuesday, May 10, 2011!

Where do Guatemalan's take their mom's out for Mother's Day? Many, many Guatemalans that I know take their mother's out to Pollo Campero, the nations favorite chicken restaurant. (Not all mom's go there, but I'm always surprised at the amount I hear of who do. :)) Mother’s Day is celebrated on May 10th in Guatemala, and working mothers have the day off.

Many women, however, will not take that day to celebrate and won't have time to rest. According to

"Guatemalan women are among the poorest of Central America. Yes, there are wealthy mothers living in gated communities, driven around by chauffeurs with armed security guards protecting them, their homes and their children. They are part of the small minority that controls the majority of wealth in Guatemala, and for the most part do not act particularly interested in the plight of the indigenous population unless they are giving lip service to dignitaries of foreign countries.

The majority of the population of Guatemala (76%) lives on $2.00 a day. The infant mortality rate is 45/1000 children per year and the under five years of age mortality rate is 56/1000 children per year. Although the maternal mortality rate is being reduced, it is still very high: 240/100,000 per live births. Guatemalan women have a life expectancy of 66 years, but if they are part of the native population, it is a mere 44. With only one doctor per 2,356 people, and an even poorer ratio in the outlying and mountainous regions, some women will not see a doctor in their lifetime."

There are many, many things that need to improve, both with women and in general in Guatemala. There are many aid groups from around the world, many from the U.S. who have different forms of aid for the people here. How about supporting one of them for Mother's Day this year and helping take a small bit of the load off of a Guatemalan mother's shoulders?

Some reliable in-country programs we trust include:
Un Techo Para Mi Pais
Casa Guatemala
Education and More
Refuge International

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Benefits of Cinnamon

Especially with the warmer weather lately, we usually keep two pitchers of something cold to drink in the refrigerator. There is a wider variety of refreshments here than I ever considered in the States. Fresh limeade, Rosa de Jamaica, sweet tea, horchata, rooibos tea and cinnamon tea are among the top candidates. I'm often surprised how these drinks have side benefits for your health beyond hydration, especially if you cut the sugar. (We use half a cup of Turbinado sugar to a gallon and it is sufficient.)

A family favorite is cinnamon tea. Many of our Latin American friends in Texas also drank cinnamon tea, and introduced it to us there. We thought it was delicious, but never learned how to make it ourselves. It's very simple!

Step 1: Put a 4-5 inch cinnamon stick in a pot of boiling water.
Step 2: Cover and steep about 10 min.
Step 3: Strain cinnamon out and pour drink into gallon pitcher.
Step 4: Add desired amount of sugar, fill with water.
Step 5: Chill or enjoy hot.

In the market here you can find huge, foot long sticks of cinnamon wrapped in newspaper for sale. We cut these into 4-5 inch pieces and they last a loooong time.

Some of the health benefits of just 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon, whether in a drink or otherwise, are supposedly these according to this website:
-Lower LDL cholesterol
-Help regulate blood sugar for Type 2 Diabetes (omit sugar)
-stop medication-resistant yeast infections (omit sugar)
-reduce Leukemia and Lymphoma cancer cells
-anti-clotting effects on blood
-combined with a tablespoon of honey for arthritis relief over time
-a natural food preservative
-boosts cognitive function and memory
-fights E. coli
-is a great source of manganese, fiber, iron and calcium.

What's not to love? Drink up!

Have you ever tried cinnamon tea? Do you have your own cinnamon recipe to share?