The February 2009 challenge is hosted by Wendy of WMPE's blog and Dharm of Dad ~ Baker & Chef. We have chosen a Chocolate Valentino cake by Chef Wan; a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Dharm and a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Wendy as the challenge.

I am writing this entry on February 6th because I did the challenge early before my trip to Guatamala. It will post automatically because I'll still be gone.

The recipe calls for a flourless chocolate cake with only three ingredients: chocolate, eggs, butter. It was super easy. I actually cut the recipe in half so that I just made three mini cakes. What is important about this recipe is that you should use the best chocolate or your favorite semi-sweet to dark chocolate because that's what you will taste. I used a Ghiradelli's bar and added a bit from a Trader Joe's bar.

There was a second part to make ice cream, but frankly, I didn't have the time. I'm busy packing and stuff. Besides, I've made ice cream before.

Anyway, the cake is fine but I still prefer my European chestnut puree version. I am thankful, though, for the easy challenge just before I've left so that I didn't have to skip a month.

Chocolate Valentino

Preparation Time: 20 minutes
16 ounces (1 pound) (454 grams) of semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped
½ cup (1 stick) plus 2 tablespoons (146 grams total) of unsalted butter
5 large eggs separated

1. Put chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl and set over a pan of simmering water (the bottom of the bowl should not touch the water) and melt, stirring often.
2. While your chocolate butter mixture is cooling. Butter your pan and line with a parchment circle then butter the parchment.
3. Separate the egg yolks from the egg whites and put into two medium/large bowls.
4. Whip the egg whites in a medium/large grease free bowl until stiff peaks are formed (do not over-whip or the cake will be dry).
5. With the same beater beat the egg yolks together.
6. Add the egg yolks to the cooled chocolate.
7. Fold in 1/3 of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture and follow with remaining 2/3rds. Fold until no white remains without deflating the batter. {link of folding demonstration}
8. Pour batter into prepared pan, the batter should fill the pan 3/4 of the way full, and bake at 375F/190C
9. Bake for 25 minutes until an instant read thermometer reads 140F/60C.
Note – If you do not have an instant read thermometer, the top of the cake will look similar to a brownie and a cake tester will appear wet.
10. Cool cake on a rack for 10 minutes then unmold.

Our trip to Guatemala was nicknamed ´Rags to Riches´ because we knew that we would start in Ronnie´s quiet village and then move to a timeshare for the final week. We are now at Soleil Pacifico in the Port of San Jose on the Pacific Coast.

We stayed at the Soleil Pacifico. This resort is an exchange through Interval International. There are only five that are exchange worthy here in Guatemala. This one is pretty good. We are in a bungalow next to the pool. The living quarters are across a canal from the beach area. There is another huge party pool there as well as a big amphitheater, lots of sports courts, the disco, and then to the beach.

The beach is beautiful. It is all black sand from the 20 volcanoes in the country. They have the thatched umbrellas and chairs and then there are people renting out ATVs and horses. I hope to go on a horseback ride today.

The disappointing aspects that I will have to send in comments on are that there is no gym for working out, no shuttle to get to town or the airport, and hardly any English. Even the front desk people, who should be the most fluent, need great improvement. We believe we are the only foreigners here at all. Everyone else appears to be rich Guatemalans.

The resort offers all-inclusive for $40 a day but we are trying to live out of the condo for breakfast and lunch and then just hit the restaurant for dinners. Ronnie took us grocery shopping before he left. Locals seem to swarm this place on the weekends. They can buy a day-pass for $65. That´s definitely only for the rich. But Ronnie says that the public beaches are disgusting. Guatemalans do not believe in a litter free environment. They just drop trash wherever they are. Our beach, of course, is litter free.

Now that it is Monday the place is a virtual ghost town. I think that it is only us and honeymooners left.

I can´t wait to get home so that I can add pictures. Even though I will be home, expect many Guatemalan blog entries in the next week or more as I put stories to all the pictures for you and give you more detailed information.

Play the video to see the panorama of the lake and three volcanoes. Note that two of the volcanoes are set one behind the other then it scans right to the third volcano.

We have driven two hours on very curvy roads to the town of Panajachel on the shores of Lake Atitlan. The views are spectacular. A very large lake set against the backdrop of three volcanoes. We had dinner tonite at the aptly named Sunset Cafe. Our table was up against the shore wall facing the lake with the sun setting behind. Wait til you see the pictures. On the other side of the volcanoes is the coastal zone and so behind them is a huge bank of clouds as the temperate zone changes. Kinda mystical.

The terrain in the highlands is very much like the Sierra Nevadas - foresty and dry in the summer. Driving up here was like driving to Yosemite except the cliffs and valleys are very severe and steep. I´m glad I took my dramamine today.

Meals here have been very cheap while we were in the village. About $1 for eggs, rice, and beans with tortillas. Dinners were about $3. Now that we are in a resort town, it´s a bit more. I had chicken fajitas tonite for $6. But I also like to get street food. I got a chorizo in tortilla last night for 10 quetzales, about $1.30. Ice cream bars are about 40 cents. I have developed sinus congestion and so I went to the farmacia in search of Sudafed. Here they sell the medicine by pill. Some Sinutabs were thus about 35 cents a pill.

The weather has been cooler than I thought. That is because we are in the Highlands at least 5000 feet above sea level. We are in the 70´s and it gets chilly at night. I did not bring enough warm clothes but am coping. The coast, supposedly, will be hot when we get there on Saturday, more like I expected.

We have done our souvenir shopping today. You definitely need to barter and walk away. We got two bedspreads down from the initial price of $214 to $100. So at $50 each I think it is good because the same at Cost Plus is over $200. I got placemats down from $80 to $20. I had brought dollars with me and here is a tip - they will accept dollars, but only if they are in good condition. If they are well worn or torn they will not take them. So take crisp bills when traveling.

We plan on taking a water taxi to one or two of the other lake towns tomorrow. We also want to go zip lining and to stop at some Mayan ruins on the way back to Acatenango on Wed. Thursday we will do some hiking and on Friday we will go to a coffee finca (farm).

Not missing the rainy cold that I hear is at home. But I am missing my kitties. More soon.

You get what you pay for. In this case, a cheap airline ticket means a lot of layovers. Our flight out of SFO left at 12:35 am and took three hours to reach Guadalajara. Two hour wait, flight to Mexico City, four hour wait, flight to Guatemala. It was a tiring haul, but we finally arrived with luggage intact and were greeted by our host, Ronnie.

Ronnie is a friend of a friend who has retired to a small village in Guatemala called Acatenango. He is the only gringo in the town. He lives in a large home that he rents and is trying to turn into a community center for the villagers. He's only been here a year and a half and knew no Spanish, but now speaks almost fluently. He picked us up and we escaped Guatemala City before rush hour got in full swing. We traveled for an hour until we reached the city of Antigua to spend the night. Ronnie correctly figured this would be a good transition spot from U.S. to tiny, rustic village.

Antigua is the oldest city in Guatemala and for centuries has been the capital until it moved to Guatemala City. It is the first city the Spanish took over. It is filled with churches and ruins because it has been destroyed by the nearby volcano a few times over the centuries. It is beautiful! It is the biggest tourist city here too and where many people come to learn Spanish. There are many schools as well. The streets are all flat, straight, and cobble stoned. We stayed at a small hostel or bed and breakfast where it was $40 for a room. Ronnie said that is the most we will spend our whole trip on a single purchase. We walked through the city and had dinner at a small cafe. Dean and Ronnie had some tequila shots and after trying some Patron Agave, which was super good, Dean ended up buying a $130 bottle of Quita Penas to be drunk at the fiesta on Saturday! Aye! We were exhausted and went back to the hostel.

The next day was spent exploring the city and the marketplace. The churches are interesting here because they have many highly decorated altars with mannequins depicting the saints. I've been to many fancy Catholic churches during my travels, but never have I seen so many mannequins!

It was then time to drive to Acatenango, which sits at the base of a double volcano. One of the volcanoes is dormant and the other still erupts. We can occasionally see a puff of steam come out of the top of it and Ronnie says some days you can see lava crawling down the sides.The town is nestled along the hillside. The towns here are not paved with asphalt, but are mosaicly tiled with concrete octagons. This town only has one bank, two comedors (restaurants), and a few shops. The population of the entire valley is supposed to be about 20,000. It is a coffee growing valley and grows for Starbucks. The pickers here will earn about $6.

Ronnie's home and site of the Centro de Cultural

View of the two volcanoes from the patio of Ronnie's place. Note the one on the right (between the trees) is the active volcano.

The house that Ronnie rents belongs to a rich family. He lives in one room and his plans are numerous. He wants to turn it into many things. First there are four rooms he wants to use for hotel rooms. There is no hotel here because tourists don't come here...yet. There is a corner room that he wants to turn into a small comedor. Currently he's rented out the kitchen to be a panaderia (bakery). Eventually that corner room would be the restaurant, sell the baked goods, and possibly be an internet cafe. The back rooms he wants to turn into classrooms to learn English and other skills. We have brought him a lot of English/Spanish books and learning aids for this endeavor. He currently rents the house/courtyard out for weddings and events. Tomorrow we will be hosting a Valentines Dance for the locals and charge them 10 quetzales, slightly more than a dollar. He's gotten a DJ and is promoting it through the local area.

The active volcano erupts often.

We spent our first evening here going to the hot springs to sit in the sulfuric water from the volcano. Then off to bed. I'm glad I had my earplugs because there were many roosters. Then every half hours from 4 - 8 a.m. there are the local buses rumbling down the street honking their horns. This is to tell the locals to hurry and catch the bus. Unfortunately, the main road is right outside our window!

So that is my update so far. In a few days I will let you know how the party went. Then I think we will be off to Lake Atitlan. It is a lake in the midst of three volcanoes and another major tourist destination.

Lodging info for Antigua:
We stayed at Hostel el Montanes, which is listed in the Moderate section of the Lonely Planet guide. A room with a shared bathroom arrangement was $40. Room with private bath is $50. Price includes breakfast and the hot water here is from a real water heater. A little bit of a walk from the main square and about a mile walk away from the mercado. But toot-toots are readily available for a ride home. Very nice accomodations.