Saturday, 22 April 2017

Iznaga Estate, Cuba

Iznaga Estate is situated in the Valle de los Ingenios (Valley of Sugar Mills) between the towns of Sancti Spiritus and Trinidad.
The brothers Pedro and Alejo Iznaga y Borrell were land and slave owning sugar producers in this area.

The 45m high tower was built in 1816 by Alejo to oversee the slaves.
It is still standing and is now open to climb.

Iznaga Tower

The stairs were a little rickety, but the 360 degree view was worth it.

The Valle de los Ingenios is actually three connected valleys - San Luis, Santa Rosa and Meyer - surrounded by the mountains of Sierra del Escambray.
Once a sugar growing hub, the valley is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The old Colonial home is now a restaurant.

Relaxing on the verandah swing after all those stairs!

The old tower bell now rests in the yard.

This post is part of Saturday Snapshot.

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Cheesemaking at Cornersmith

Last weekend I made cheese.

My friends have called me the Dairy Queen for decades. 
My love of cheese and cheese dishes is legendairy!

So a cheesemaking course at Cornersmith was always going to be something I had to do.
I just had to find a free weekend.

Kristen Allan is the cheesemaker; ricotta, yoghurt and labneh are the cheeses we learn to make.
Slowing cooking is the philosophy; sustainable, ethical food production is the aim.
And good times are the name of the game.

The course begins in a relaxed manner.
A platter of homemade cheeses, pickles and bread are provided for us to sample as we get to know each other over a glass of wine (or homemade cordial).

After a discussion about what type of milk we should use and the various processes involved we get stuck in.
We don our aprons, pick up tools and begin to slowly heat a pot of milk, lemon juice and salt.

Kristen told us lots of amazing facts about curds and whey, including the uses of whey to wash your face and to water your pot plants.

After the appropriate cooking time, it's time to separate the curds and whey.
Ricotta is born!

Kristen then showed us how to make our own yoghurt before providing us with enough of her homemade yoghurt (made earlier as it takes a day to make yoghurt from scratch) for us to start our own labneh.

I have since made my own yoghurt at home and another batch of labneh. 
Kristen provides a cheese hotline so that we can contact her with any problems.
My second batch of labneh ended up tasting quite different to the first - it may have been the milk I started with or not enough salt. 
I'll add some herbs and olive oil to see if that improves the flavour.

It's all very, very fascinating & I can't wait to have more time over Easter to make another batch!

This post is part of Saturday Snapshot and Weekend Cooking.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Guaimaro Hacienda, Cuba

The drive between Sancti Spiritus and Trinidad has several interesting stopping points to check out.

If driving in a foreign country is not for you, most of the casa particular owners in Trinidad or Sancti Spiritus would be able to put you onto a driver that you could hire for the day to visit several of the sites dotted around the Valle de los Ingenios (valley of the sugar mills).

Near the village of Caracusey is a hacienda built in 1859 by Jose Mariano Borrell y Lemus. 
Borrell was a wealthy sugar merchant who lived in Trinidad with his family.
The Guaimaro hacienda was his 'bachelor pad'.
It is said that he had over fifteen illegitimate children with several of the slave women on his property. Little wonder, perhaps, that his wife and eldest son, plotted to kill him at one point!

Their family tree was full of early deaths, curious marriage arrangements (including one aunt and nephew pairing off) and crazy children. 
Lots of wealth and power did not a happy family make!

Borrell commissioned Italian painter Daniele Dell'Aglio to paint the stunning frescoes that adorn the main rooms here (as well as his home in Trinidad).

Guaimaro was recently restored (2014) during the 500th anniversary celebrations in Cuba.
Prior to this, the hacienda was home to several families that had been relocated there after losing their own homes in a hurricane. The frescoes had been painted over when they moved in.

The restorers did a tremendous job, to bring them back to what we can see now.

The chapel (below) is the only one of it's kind in Cuba.
It is attached to the side of the main house and contains an original jewel-encrusted book stand and bible. Only in Cuba would this amazing relic be allowed to sit out in the open with no protection!

Various remnants of the sugar making industry are dotted around the yard. 

Our guide only spoke Spanish but a very helpful German couple translated the guide's spiel into English for us (how useless did we feel?)

A sheet with an English version of the guide's talk was provided (that we found out later was translated by our Australian host in Trinidad) which was useful, but basic. It was obvious that the guide had much more to say about the house & it's history than was on the notes.

It was a fascinating glimpse into Cuban life past and present.

The power and privilege of the Spanish landlords and their use of slavery to make it all possible. Followed by modern Cuba commandeering these spaces for practical purposes, until the promise of tourist dollars and a growing sense of pride in their own history prompted renovation and restoration.

This post is part of Saturday Snapshot.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Sancti Spiritus, Cuba

We picked up a car at the end of our time in Camaguey so that we could drive ourselves around.
Having heard many stories about Cuban roads (how bad they are) we only planned a small trip for the first day to get a feel for the conditions.

The roads were okay, the car was great, but all the other types of vehicles also on the road were the challenge - new hire cars, pre-1959 cars, Russian lada's, tractors, motorbikes, bicycles and horses and carts. Mr Seasons and I have written a travel piece about driving in Cuba here.

Our first stop with the car, was a lovely town called Sancti Spiritus.
It was founded in 1514 and recently beautified for its 500th anniversary.

The main square was Parque Serafin Sanchez.
The yellow building (below) is the newly restored Hotel Perla de Cuba - now a three storey government run shopping centre.

The green building seemed to house more shops or a bar - we didn't go close as there was loud music being pumped from a CD player and government 'sales' people hanging around a table spruiking the glories and wonders of solar panels. None of the locals payed them any attention, so we didn't either.

On one eastern side of the square was the Hotel Plaza (blue).

Looking back through the Parque towards Perla
We didn't have long to explore Sancti Spiritus - just one afternoon. But we made the most of our time and strolled around the cobblestone streets (many were pedestrian only). The houses were single storey buildings with shingle roofs.

Houses lining Plaza Honorato with a glimpse of the beautiful blue church steeple.

Sadly, the photo (below) of Puento Yayabo, does not do justice to the rather god-awful smell coming from the river. It was built by the Spanish in 1815 and is the main route to Trinidad - our next destination.

Puento Yayabo over the Rio Yayabo

Next to the bridge is a decent bar called Taberna Yayabo where we picked up an afternoon beer along with a plate of olives and cheese to snack on. Fortunately the breeze was blowing most of the god-awful smell in the other direction.

The beautiful blue Iglesia Parroquial Mayor del Espiritu Santo claims to be one of the oldest churches in Cuba (the original wood structure was built in 1522). The present stone building was erected in 1680 and the bell tower was added in the 18th century.

Serafin Sanchez himself - a local hero from the war of Independence.

Evening in Sancti Spiritus & Parque Searfin Sanchez
This post is part of Saturday Snapshot.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Cameguey Architecture

Architecture of Cameguey, Cuba.

We did a lot of strolling around Camaguey. 
With it's narrow, winding streets and new pedestrian malls, it's made for leisurely sight-seeing. The variety of buildings and plazas was also a boon for amateur photographers!

The cool change that blew in overnight was also a welcome relief.
Corner of Plaza de la Solidaridad and Av Agramonte

An example of 19th century Neo-Classical architecture

Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de la Soledad - an example of Baroque architecture

Streets of Camaguey

Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de la Merced on the corner of Plaza de los Trabajadores.

Banco de Credito y Comercio in Plaza de los Trabajodores

This post is part of Saturday Snapshot.