“When I was 31, it was a very good year…”

Text: Julie Schwietert Collazo
Photos: Francisco Collazo & Julie Schwietert Collazo

As the last two weeks of 2008 spin towards history, I find myself in bitingly cold New York City, where I’m wrapped in at least two layers of clothes by day and sleeping under two comforters at night.

New York has been my home since I moved here in 1999 after graduating from college, accepting an internship, and deciding to stay. It’s a city I love for a thousand reasons at least.

But in 2008, I didn’t spend a lot of time here. It was a very good year for travel–the best yet–and now that I’m finally settling down at home for a period of more than a week, I’m sorting through the year’s (and a 250 GB hard drive’s) photos, stories, and memories.

Here are a few I wanted to share with you….

JANUARY, Cuba/South Carolina, Mexico City, Cuernavaca, Puebla, Tijuana, San Diego, Pacific Coast Highway, and San Francisco:
Francisco and I started the new year apart, he with family in Cuba and I with family in South Carolina.

We met up at our part-time home in Mexico City, made quick trips to Cuernavaca and Puebla, crossed the border, and then drove the Pacific Coast Highway before…

We practiced settling for a while in this city where we met each other and where we both feel at home. We saw a Gonzalo Rubalcaba concert, watched old buildings be demolished and observed the new contour of this city begin to take shape.

MARCH, Mexico City & New York:
A split month, half in el DF and half in New York. In DF, I’m working on an assignment. In NYC, I’m a passionate observer of my own neighborhood.

APRIL, New York, Washington, D.C.:

It’s spring in the city, one of the very best times of year for a New Yorker. But I’m getting restless. I organize a trip to Washington, D.C. for my mom’s birthday.

Francisco and I also meet fellow Matador editor and the amazingly talented photographer, Lola Akinmade. Still, there are stories all around, as there always are, no matter where we are.

MAY, Cuba:

I visit Cuba for the first time since Fidel handed power over to his brother, Raul. Of seven or so visits to Cuba since 2005, this is the most special one, filled with incredible moments.

I interview Chinese Cubans, spend hours with a Cuban musicologist, & work on a documentary about Juan Antonio Picasso.

Francisco’s son and I go to Mariel, where Francisco set off from Cuba in 1980. We visit Cojimar and Hemingway’s home. And I celebrate Mother’s Day with Francisco’s mom and the mother of his son.

JUNE, New Orleans:

Francisco and I meet up in New Orleans to volunteer with the Culinary Corps and write about New Orleans. Seeing the state of New Orleans three years after Hurricane Katrina reminds me why traveling and stories are important & why I believe so passionately in both.

JULY, Colombia:

A full month in Colombia, with the bulk of our time spent in Mompox, where we meet the coolest kids in the world and begin making plans for an after-school program for them.

We also visit Cartagena, Santa Marta, Taganga, and Barranquilla.

AUGUST, Guadalajara, Mexico:
Back home in Mexico, we also visit Guadalajara on assignment. Not only does Sally Rangel and the staff of Villa Ganz set a totally new standard for service and hospitality, we discover that Guadalajara is quite possibly the only city where we’ve enjoyed every single meal we’ve eaten in restaurants. We were also fortunate to participate in and interview others who attended the Iluminemos Mexico march for peace.

SEPTEMBER, Perote and Veracruz, Mexico:

Perote: The town that tourism forgot. Not for long, if we have anything to do with it. Along with our friend, Carmen, we toured the San Carlos prison, visited an ostrich and orchid farm, dreamed about opening a bed and breakfast in an abandoned hacienda in the middle of a corn field at the base of some mountains, and found ancient pottery sherds just littering the side of the road as we drove up into the mountains. We also happened upon a local boxing match.

We drank strong coffee and had my palm read in Veracruz.

OCTOBER, Mexico City & Oaxaca, Mexico; Guantanamo Bay, Cuba:

October was all about connection.

We met Matador member Teresita and her husband, Ibis, at our home in Mexico City, reconnected with my old friend, Arely, and her husband Ivan at an airport restaurant, and visited with weavers at their home and interviewed protesters in Oaxaca.

I also traveled to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to report about the military detention facility there.

I could have spent weeks there. In any event, I have a notebook full of stories that I’d like to write.

NOVEMBER, NYC, Washington, D.C., Chile:

NYC: To vote. Of course.

Washington, D.C.: To blog live from NPR on election night.

Chile: The press trip of a lifetime: 7 days. Santiago, Valparaiso, Punta Arenas, Torres del Paine. Cordero (lamb). But most of all… incredible people: Roberto, Francisco, Andres, Paloma, Carolina… que buenos son!

DECEMBER, Puerto Rico:
Francisco and I moved to Puerto Rico (shuttling back and forth between the island and NYC) in 2005 and left for good last December. While we had no active plans to return for a visit, our friends Wally and Marina asked us if we wanted to take care of their dogs for a couple weeks while they went on a much-needed and deserved vacation.

It was nice to see the sun every morning, to feel it on my skin, to watch as it penetrated just-rained skies and made light shows with rainbows, and to collect the grapefruit it ripened and scattered the ground with.

As visitors, we also went to places we’d never visited as residents, including the small island of Culebra and the town of Guanica, where the US invaded Puerto Rico during the Spanish-American War 210 years ago.


As I write this, I begin to realize that everything important is left out. It’s the people and the stories, and there’s a hundred folks at least. And for every person, a hundred stories.

I haven’t forgotten a single one of them. The stories are on the way….

One Ingredient, Four Recipes: Grapefruit

Text & Photos by Francisco Collazo

There are some foods we become so accustomed to using in one way that we have a hard time thinking of other ways to use them.

One of my favorite things to do in the kitchen is experiment with these ingredients, pushing them to their limits to see how they can be used.

People love seeing these foods presented in ways they’ve never seen them before, with combinations that have never touched their palates.

Today, I’m starting an occasional series called “One Ingredient, Four Recipes.” I’ll be taking a single item and sharing four recipes I’ve invented or modified to use that ingredient in surprising and delicious dishes.

The first ingredient is grapefruit.

This week, Julie and I are in Puerto Rico, where our friends’ yard is full of fruit trees: plantains, mangos, papaya, and more. It’s grapefruit season, and the round sun-colored fruits are falling from the trees, leaving a blanket of yellow on the grass each morning.

Julie goes out and collects the grapefruit and makes fresh-squeezed juice. But since there are so many and we don’t want them to go to waste, I started to think of other ways to use them. Here are 5 recipes:

Grapefruit Martini

(serves 2-4, depending upon the size of your martini glasses)

-4 shots of vodka (Absolut has Ruby Red Grapefruit Vodka, but that’s not necessary)
-2 shots of Cointreau
-juice of 1 or 2 grapefruits (will depend entirely on how much juice each grapefruit has; if the grapefruit seems rather dry, use the juice of two).

Put all ingredients in a shaker. Shake well. If you don’t want any pulp in your martini, put a fine mesh strainer over the martini glass and pour the mix through it. You can garnish with a half slice of grapefruit or a cherry. I also really like to garnish martinis with wild hibiscus flowers, which impart a nice garnet color to the drink and surprise people because they’re so unusual. You can order tWild Hibiscus Flowers in Syrup on Amazon.

Grapefruit Garlic Chili Marinade

Citrus juices form the base of many marinades, and fresh squeezed grapefruit juice makes a great marinade for fish, chicken, and pork. This recipe for a spicy, tart marinade gives you enough to coat two pieces of fish, chicken, or pork; double the recipe for four.

-juice from 4 grapefruit
-3 cloves of garlic, chopped fine
-1.5 heaping teaspoons of chili powder. Alternately, if you have fresh jalapenos, I’d recommend roasting them on the stove top, deseeding them, chopping them finely and then adding to the marinade.
-If you happen to have any fresh herbs like cilantro or flat leaf parsley on hand, chop a generous handful and add it to the mix.
-2 teaspoons of honey (honey helps balance out the tartness of the grapefruit)

Once you’ve made your marinade, put it into a flat plastic or glass container and lay your fish, chicken, or pork on the bottom. Cover with marinade and let it sit for 3-24 hours. Then, remove the meat from the marinade and grill it to taste, either on a BBQ grill or on your stove top in a grill pan.

Grapefruit Ginger Vinaigrette

Like marinades, citrus fruit juices make good bases for salad dressings. One of my favorites at any time of year is a grapefruit ginger vinaigrette. Serves four.

-1 cup of olive oil
-1/2 cup of white balsamic vinegar
-Juice of 2-3 grapefruit (again, depending on how juicy your grapefruit are)
1/2 teaspoon of fresh grated ginger
-White pepper to taste

Mix well and toss salad with light coating of the dressing.

Baked Grapefruit

I was determined to come up with a way to use grapefruit for dessert!

Did you know you can actually bake grapefruit?! Yes, you can! It’s the simplest dessert but because few people have ever thought about baking grapefruit, they’re totally impressed!

-Cut a grapefruit in half.
-Sprinkle each half with brown sugar or drizzle lightly with honey.
-Sprinkle some cinnamon or cardamom over the top. You could also place a cinnamon stick in the center of each grapefruit half while it bakes, and the essence will seep into the citrus. For an easy but impressive touch, trade the cinnamon for a piece of star anise, placed right on the top of the grapefruit, in the center.
-Bake the grapefruit for about 10-15 minutes on 375F, or just until golden, then serve on a plate or in a bowl.

Do you think you might try these recipes? You don’t have to be in Puerto Rico to find grapefruit this time of year; citrus is one of the few fruits available in winter that is consistently good. Can you think of other ways to use grapefruit? Share your ideas below!

Passports With Purpose

Text & Photos: Julie Schwietert Collazo

Francisco and I are always interested in people who are able to transform an amazing idea into an even more amazing project that makes a tangible, positive difference in people’s lives.

So we’re proud to be participating in Passports With Purpose, which starts today and runs through the end of December.

Passports with Purpose is the idea of four travel bloggers who got together for coffee and a chat about how they wanted to use the blogging platform to support a cause they all cared about.

A few hours later, they’d mapped out a plan: they’d contact their readers, fellow bloggers, former employers, and other people in their vast networks, and engage them to participate in a raffle, with all proceeds going to the organization, Heifer International.

Heifer International is a cause we’re happy to get behind, as the organization is committed to ending hunger through sustainable, poverty-fighting practices.

All the prizes in the Passports with Purpose raffle are donated, all raffle tickets cost $10, and all transactions take place online through the site First Giving.

Right now, 49 different prize packs, ranging in value from $20 to more than $400, are up for grabs; raffle winners will be drawn on December 29 and notified on December 30.

To support the project, Francisco is offering a cooking class and dinner for four to raffle participants from New York City!

If you didn’t already know this, Francisco is a private chef. This year alone he has cooked his way around Cuba, Colombia, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and New York, teaching cooking classes or making amazing meals in kitchens as diverse as the Whole Foods Culinary Center, Villa Sevilla, Casa Amarilla , and the Southern Food and Beverage Museum.

To win, just visit this page and look for the code that matches Francisco’s prize pack. Then, make your donation through First Giving, and be sure to enter that code!

Questions? Leave a note in the comments below!

Cream of Basil Soup Recipe

Text by Francisco Collazo
Photo by Julie Schwietert Collazo
With all the excitement of our election night blogging experience at NPR, it’s taken us awhile to follow up on a request from a student in my cooking class to post a recipe for my cream of basil soup.

We first tasted cream of basil soup at the extraordinary Hotel Villa Ganz in Guadalajara, Mexico a couple months ago. At the time, we weren’t sure what the soup was. We spent 10 minutes guessing the ingredients and finally realized that the unexpected flavor of the soup was attributable to basil. An easy soup to make, and one that’s surprising and pleasing to guests because of its uniqueness, I decided to replicate the soup by devising my own recipe…and adding a final flourish.


2 Tablespoons of olive oil
3 cups of broth (vegetable or chicken)
1 clove of garlic, minced (or in a paste after roasting in the oven, which is even better!)
1 cup of heavy cream
1.5 cups of basil leaves, chopped fine
1 medium onion, minced
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon of anise seed (optional)
chile serrano to garnish (1 per serving) (optional)

1. In a saucepan or soup pot, sautee the minced onion and the garlic in the 2 Tb. of olive oil just until golden.
2. Add basil to the onion and garlic mixture; sautee for two minutes.
3. Add broth to the basil/onion/garlic mixture. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat. Simmer for five minutes then remove from heat and allow to cool.
4. Once the soup is cool, puree in a blender or using an immersion blender.
5. After blending, return the soup to the pot and heat on medium.
6. Add the heavy cream and anise seed. Cook until the soup thickens somewhat; stir continuously during this process.
7. Remove from heat and serve.
8. If you’d like to make the dish slightly more impressive, roast serrano chiles on the stove and garnish each bowl of soup with a single chile (uncut and unseeded).
9. Serve and enjoy!

La Corraleja/The Bullfights of Mompox

Francisco’s article about the bullfights of Mompox was published recently on The Washington Times’s travel blog. The English version can be read here, y la version en espanol se puede encontrar aqui.

Below is a video Francisco shot on the first day of the Mompox bullfight, or la corraleja. If you are sensitive to animal cruelty or physical injury, then skip the video and just read the article!