Traveling for a Cultural Experience

Mexican Flamingos

One of my favorite experiences I had was on a trip to Mexico’s Yucatán Coast a couple of years ago. It was in January so a great getaway from the cold east coast winter. We stayed in Cancun for most of the trip, enjoyed the beach and pools, but also did some day trips exploring. On one of the days we were driving to see Ek Balam-a Yucatán Mayan ruin that is lesser known than Chichen Itza. (Which we had also toured). My daughter wasn’t too interested in seeing another ruin so we were looking for something along the way. We spotted the flamingos on the sign for Rio Lagartos and looked it up. It was further and in a different direction than Ek Balam. We decided to take the drive and see what we could find.

Rio Lagartos is approximately 3 hours and 20 minutes from Cancun. We drove on the route that takes you from Cancun to Valladolid a charming town with a beautiful Cathedral and town square. Then it goes to Tizmin, also charming. Next we arrived in the coastal town of Rio Lagartos. As we left a little later in the day, it was late afternoon when we arrived. Immediately we were approached by a man asking if we wanted to get a tour of the flamingos. We negotiated a very reasonable price for a boat tour. He let us park at his house. I grabbed my camera and we went out on the motor boat. Just a quick ride off shore and we began to encounter groups of 20-30 flamingos. Each group would let us get quite close and then they would start to fly up. Some seemed to be walking on the water as they started to fly. It was an experience that I will never forget. Our guide took us by some marshes and small islands close to their nesting sites. The sun was starting to set so we returned to shore.

The guide told us that if we returned in May-June, it’s mating season so thousands of flamingos flock to the area. I hope to go back one day and experience this as well.

There is a biosphere park that gives tours as well. The Rio Lagartos Biosphere Reserve.

All photos are copyright @cjsthought (Connie Frisch-Cherniak)

Rio Lagartos @cjsthought
Tizmin @cjsthought
Valladolid @cjsthought
Valladolid @cjsthought

Recipes for a Cultural Experience—Soup Weather

As the weather turns colder, I love to make a pot of soup for the week. It can warm you and envelop you with flavors from various cultures. Great anytime of the day.

Black Bean Soup

This recipe is a combination of a Cuban Black Bean Soup and a Mexican Black Bean Soup. The flavors are crisp and intense with a slight citrus flare. It is a chunky soup full of vegetables. If you prefer a smoother consistency, you can use an immersion blender.

It can be made vegetarian by omitting the chorizo sausage or using a vegetarian version of the sausage. There are many good vegetarian chorizo sausages. (El Burrito Soyrizo, Upton’s Natural Chorizo or Field Roast Mexican Sausage are all good choices) I’ve made it both ways. Adding a little cumin and cilantro as well as lime juice can make it a more Mexican style. Make it with or without the vegetarian ground crumbles. (You could also substitute extra lean ground beef if desired).

You can add additional chopped onions, carrots, tomatoes and celery if desired. I often use frozen vegetables for convenience as well as fresh chopped vegetables. I usually use 1 container of broth and add additional water, but use all broth or all water-your preference. Add a little chopped jalapeños if you want to spice it up.

Another option: use less liquid and make it a stew to serve over egg noodles.

You can use a Slow Cooker or an Insta Pot as well as just simmer on the stovetop.


1 16 ounce package dry black beans

1 8 ounce can chopped tomatoes

1 can Rotel tomatoes

1/3 cup Balsamic Vinegar

1 8 ounce package frozen corn

1 12 ounce package frozen mixed vegetables

2 Chorizo sausages (I use Aidells) sliced into cubes (you can use vegetarian sausage if you prefer)

1 package Boca or Morningstar ground crumbles

1 -2 32 ounce Vegetable or Chicken Broth

6 tbs Garlic Powder

4 tbs ground Basil

2 tbs Tajin spice

1-2 tbs salt to taste (I use a salt grinder so turn 10 turns)

A dash of Worcestershire

Water to fill to close to top of Insta Pot or Slow Cooker (check fill lines)

Insta Pot Instructions:

Add all ingredients. Use Soup setting. I add an extra 15 minutes to time. Make sure steam vent is set. (Approximately 2:45 cook time).

Slow Cooker Instructions:

Add all of the ingredients. Cook on High for 5 hours. Check for bean softness at 4 hours.

Can serve with a dollop of sour cream, chopped onions, slice of lime if desired. Add some extra water or broth when reheating if it’s too thick. Enjoy!

Noodle Kugel (Luchen Kugel)

Noodle Kugel (Luchen Kugel) is one of the standard traditional recipes in Jewish cooking. It is typically served on holidays or for the Sabbath. It is a dairy recipe so if you keep Kosher, you would have it on a milchik (dairy) night.

I make it with just the dairy ingredients. Some people prefer it to be sweet so they add some sugar, raisins or pineapple to it. My Mother made it plain, usually, but occasionally made the sweet version as my Father liked it sweet as well. My preference is the plain version with some added sour cream on top. I use low-fat cottage cheese and sour cream. I’ve also made it with fat-free versions, which come out as well. Your choice.


1 package egg noodles (8-12 ounces usually)

1 container cottage cheese (16 ounces)

1/2 container sour cream (6-8 ounces)

2 eggs beaten

1 tsp salt

1/4 tsp pepper (I use a salt and pepper grinder so a few turns of each-to taste)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Spray or grease an 8×8 baking pan (for a thicker kugel, or a 13 x 9 for a thinner kugel).

Boil the noodles as directed. Drain, put back into the pot. Add the cottage cheese and sour cream. Stir (my kids always loved small bowls of the mixture before I added the eggs), add the eggs, salt and pepper-mix well.

Pour into baking pan and bake uncovered for approximately 90 minutes or so—until top is browned and crispy. Slice into squares and serve with sour cream on top if desired. Enjoy


Recipes for a Cultural Experience

Jewish Holiday Recipes

Growing up in a small town in Northern Minnesota, maintaining a Jewish heritage was a challenge. Food was always the connection that brought us together. My Father had two brothers and all the families as well as my Grandmother were always together for the major holidays. My Mother, Lorraine was the main cook. She made the brisket, matzoh ball soup, tzimmes and kugel. My Aunt Ruth made great Jello mold salads and deserts. My Aunt Myrtle made wonderful cookie bars. My Grandmother made incredibly delicate cheese or potato knishes. All the cousins sat together at the kids table no matter what their ages. I was the youngest, by many years; so it was often the only times we got to spend time together. Wonderful memories.

Beef Brisket

Preheat Oven to 350 Degrees

4-5 lb Brisket trimmed

1 cup Ketchup

2 tbls Mustard

1/2 cup Brown Sugar

3-4 potatoes cut into small chunks

3 carrots peeled and cut into chunks

1 onion diced

Salt, Pepper, Garlic Powder or fresh garlic (to taste)

Recipe: Place brisket into large baking pan. Most people place it fat side up, I trim and reverse it as I prefer it without the added fat. Season the meat with salt, pepper and garlic. I use less salt, but season to your preference.

Mix the ketchup, mustard and brown sugar together in a bowl. Pour over the top of the brisket. Add potatoes, carrots and onions to the pan around the brisket. Add about a cup of water to make it about half way up the brisket.

Bake uncovered for 30 minutes. Cover tightly and roast for 3-4 hours until the meat is tender. Let rest and thinly slice against grain. Layer vegetables next to meat. Gravy can be strained in a gravy separator. Works great to make it the day before, remove fat layer and heat up. The meat will shrink substantially so plan accordingly. Enjoy!

Beef Brisket


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