Having lived in Seattle for almost fourteen years now (wow - how time flies by), I have come to realize that it is almost medically required for our family to get away in April and soak up vitamin D, in the form of hot blazing sun rays. I find that after a week in the hot sun, we can handle the somewhat rainy and mildly cold weather that usually sticks around here until the 4th of July.
This year we decided to travel south of the border to the 19.5 km strip that makes up the area known as Los Cabos in Baja California Sur, Mexico. The Weekend Chef and I have been to Cabo ourselves a few times, but this was the first trip for the kids, and we loved it!
It is a quick and easy flight from Seattle of only 3 1/3 hours. The Gluten Free Teen and I packed lunches to eat on the airplane. You can bring fresh fruit onto the airplane but you must eat it before you hit customs in Mexico.
Upon landing in Cabo, you have to walk across the tarmac at the airport to reach the terminal. I love that feeling when you get off the plane and are hit with the first breeze of hot air and then the touch of sunshine that you can actually feel on your skin - you know then that you are no longer in Seattle.
Having made our way through customs (really easy in Mexico) and through the throng of men trying to get you to hire a car from them (not so easy and full of scam artists so if you go, pre-arrange for a car or driver and quickly walk through these guys), we found our pre-arranged car and headed to our destination, the lovely Los Cabos Hilton.
You know it is going to be a good vacation when you are greeted upon getting out of the van with Pomegranate Frozen Margarita's for the adults and ice cold limonada for the kids.
This was our first time staying at the Hilton and we were completely pleased - the rooms had that south-of-the-border feel with tile floors, overly ornate wood carved furniture, splashes of color and, most importantly, the patio for letting the ocean breeze and the sound of crushing waves flow in. Oh, it was paradise!
Normally I am hyper-prepared for our gluten free diet needs when traveling. If we are not staying at a condo where I can cook, I will check the web, email local support groups, plan our dinners, call the restaurants and have even gone so far as to diagram where the restaurants are on a map. Not this time!
We really wanted to stay at a hotel this trip (which we rarely do) and there are GREAT deals on the Internet for hotels right now. (We actually got two nights free on this trip.) I searched the web and found basically nothing on eating gluten free in Los Cabos Mexico. We emailed the hotel and were assured they could handle our diet restrictions, but how many times have I heard that only to show up and be terribly disappointed as handling our diet translated into plain grilled chicken and steamed veggies.
I packed a suitcase full of Udi's muffins for breakfast, some Glutino pretzels and peanut butter, some Lucy cookies, and a bag of GF pasta, but beyond that we were praying for some GF options at the resort.
Immediately upon reaching our room (it was almost dinner time) we called the Head Chef to alert them of our diet restrictions. He was not there of course, but they assured us once again that they could accommodate us at any of the three restaurants at the hotel.
After freshening up a bit, we headed down to El Meson, the more casual restaurant at the resort. It was very charming - outdoor patio that overlooked the pool and the ocean, decorated in light blues and white linens that made you feel even closer to the natural surrounding elements. Of course, immediately upon sitting down we once again told them of our diet issues. (And, yes, I do get tired of having to do this all of the time). The menu was the standard mexican cuisine - quesadillas, fajitas, seafood salads, rice and beans, etc. Not only is the Gluten Free Teen restricted as her name implies, she has also been a vegetarian for four years. She is just now starting to try a little chicken, but for all intents and purposes she really is a vegetarian. This being Mexico, I was praying she could have some corn tortillas at meal time or she was going to get really tired of salads.
A stroke of panic hit me when the Manager, Luis, came over and regretfully informed us that the corn tortillas had a "little bit" of what they called regular flour in them. And, by the way, even the rice and beans has a little flour in it.
It was also at this point that the two Younger Siblings decided to get in an argument over the camera, elevating their conversation to such a point that I was having a hard time hearing what the manager was saying.
My mind was racing with "eight days of salads," "oh, why can't we just go on a normal vacation and eat normal food," and a "why does it have to be so difficult!" None of these things would I ever say out loud in front of the GFT of course!
I think Luis must of felt the steam that was coming out of my head at this point as he very politely excused himself with a "let me see what I can do" and headed for the kitchen.
As I was sitting there wondering what in the world the GFT was going to eat for eight days, Luis came out with a bag of 100% corn flour that even said "a gluten free product" on the side. For the next eight days they made the GFT homemade 100% gluten free corn tortillas! With just this one simple but essential ingredient the GFT ate quesadillas with queso (cheese), tacos, tostados and came to love fajitas with even a little bit of chicken.
I can't even express the sense of relief that I felt knowing everything would be okay. We were not going to starve or get sick.
I ordered a margarita, took a deep breath and let the relaxation of the vacation begin to sink in.
Everything went amazingly great after that!
We literally ate every lunch at the resort and six of the eight dinners. The resort was so wonderful there was hardly any reason to leave.
We soon fell into the most pleasing routine of coffee on the patio and Udi's muffins for breakfast. We went down for breakfast one morning and they could easily accommodate our diet restrictions with eggs and bacon, but we really liked having coffee on our patio for breakfast.
After lathering ourselves head-to-toe with sunscreen, we would head to the beach.
In front of the Hilton is one of the only swimmable coves in this part of Los Cabos. The waves are fierce here, but a little natural cove provided enough shelter that we could get in the water and ride the waves. We spent our days on the beach reading, burying each other in the sand and swimming the cool waters of the ocean. It was such an awesome feeling to swim out into the ocean and be engulfed by its cool waters. I see why dolphins look so happy!
For lunch, we would head up to the Madero grill, the outdoor eating area by the pool. We soon befriended the manager of this area, Roberto, who took exquisite care of us as well. Really all of the staff was overly accommodating and friendly. Not only did they make us homemade tortillas everyday, but they went out of their way to be friendly. My son, the Seven Year Old Boy, is adopted from Guatemala. We are all working on learning Spanish and part of this trip was to inspire and encourage him in his Spanish as well. Everyday Roberto taught Luke some new spanish words. By the end, all three kiddos were experts at ordering "helado de chocolate, por favor" (chocolate ice cream please).
After lunch we strolled back to beach until late afternoon when we headed up to the pool to wash off the ocean and enjoy a little happy hour. The kids loved swimming up to the bar in the pool (this is a very, very family and kid friendly place so I call it a bar very loosely) and ordering chocolate shakes or frozen smoothies. Okay, I am an adult so I favored the frozen strawberry margarita. When the sun finally ducked behind the shade of the building, we would head in for showers.
As I said, six of the nights we ate at El Meson. We were in Mexico, so no chicken fingers and french fries for the Younger Kids. We all sampled the Mexican Cuisine and loved it! We only left the resort for two dinners - one at the Palmilla which is a lovely place but the GFT felt sick the next day. We had one dinner at El Come in San Jose del Cabo.
The kids loved the experience of San Jose; the bright colors,
eating under the canopy of bougainvillea, but the food was not so great.
On the night of our last dinner, the Chef at El Meson gave us a lesson on how to make corn tortillas. It was really fun as they greeted the GFT with a Chef's hat and let us all dig into the flour and make our own tortillas. They even provided us with an authentic tortilla press!
If you have not figured it out yet, we loved our stay at the Hilton in Los Cabos and plan to return next year. While we were on vacation, I read this article by Anne Lamott which relayed a story of a beggar in India "who sat outside a temple, begging for just enough every day to keep body and soul alive, until the temple elders convinced him to move across the street and sit under a tree. Years of begging and bare subsistence followed until he died. The temple elders decided to bury him beneath his cherished tree, where, after shoveling away a couple of feet of earth, they found a stash of gold coins that he had unknowingly sat on, all those hand-to-mouth years."
This story reminded me not to be so caught up in the day-to-day hand-to-mouth (a perfect illustration for our GF diet don't you think) that we miss out on your golden coins. The staff at the Hilton were gracious enough to take away my hand-to-mouth issues so I could enjoy my golden coins - playing on the beach, cuddling in the shade of the umbrella with my little ones, a few quiet moments with the Weekend Chef.
I know not all of us can escape to Mexico, but you can enjoy the golden coins that are right in front of you - have a family movie night where you eat popcorn and drink smoothies for dinner while watching a movie, read your kid a story when you tuck them into bed tonight, forget sweeping the kitchen floor and sit down with a glass of wine with your loved one. These are what will truly fill you up!
I could not end this post without a recipe for corn tortillas.
Homemade Corn Tortillas
Before posting this recipe, I should say that for some people corn tortillas are an acquired taste. When we first went GF and I tried the Mission corn tortillas, I really did not like the corn flavor. But I continued to eat them as a good, cheap alternative to bread. We have all actually grown to love corn tortillas but if you are not used to the corn flavor you may have to try these a few times before you really appreciate the flavor.
2 cups Maseca Flour
1 cup water (plus more as needed to reach right consistency)
1/4 cup canola oil
1 t salt
It really is important that you use the right corn flour. The first time I tried this recipe, I had GF corn meal that I ground up in my processor to make finer. The tortillas did not work with this flour! At El Meson in Cabo they used the Maseca Corn Flour, 4.4 lbs. and it works beautifully! (click on the link to order if from Amazon.com) At the end of the recipe I have a copy of the email that I received from the company that produces this flour.
Combine the two cups of flour with the salt, water and oil. The best way to combine this is to use your hands and squeeze it together like you would playdoh. If it is dry, add more water by tablespoons until it reaches a playdoh like consistency.
Roll the dough into approximately sixteen round balls. Cover with a moistened towel so the flour will not dry out.
The easiest way to make these is with a Cast Iron Tortilla Press, 8-Inch
We were lucky to bring one home from Mexico, but they also sell them on Amazon.com.
Line the tortilla press with waxed paper (I cut the wax paper into rough circles the same size as the press). Coat the wax paper with a tiny amount of oil. Place a dough ball on the waxed paper in the press and press until flattened into a disk.
You can do this without a press by rolling out the dough with a rolling pen between two sheets of waxed paper.
I brushed a little bit of oil on the tortilla, then cooked them on a griddle or skillet on medium-high heat. Cook until browned, then flip and cook the other side. They cook very quickly.
Keep warm until you serve them. Store in the refrigerator for a day or two and warm before serving. Make extra and store in the freezer until ready to eat.
I actually made 48 tortillas this weekend playing with the recipe. The original recipe calls for 1 1/4 cups water and no oil. The oil makes a moister and more pliable tortilla. I also tried it with 1 1/2 cups corn flour and 1/2 cup general GF flour. The Younger Kids liked these better (less corn flavor) but they were crispier and drier. Actually liking the corn flavor of these tortillas, the GFT and I prefer the all corn version.
Finally, the following is the letter I received from the manufacturers of the Maseca Flour:
Azteca Milling LP does not purchases or handles any wheat grains or products in the manufacturing process of Corn Flour MASECA, all random tests performed so far for presence of gluten have resulted negative at the limit of detection of the test.
It is important to mention that all grains are handled through the US grain handling system and our corn could be exposed incidentally to wheat grains, however, and as mentioned before, we have never seen a positive result for gluten and have never received notification that any of our customers have had am allergic reaction to the flour.
Please let me know if you need any additional information.
Thanks for your interest in MASECA corn flour.