Friday, January 31, 2014

The Travelling Nutmeg: Green thumbs and red fingers

Caribbean or island life means sea, sun, relaxation and fun. We chill on the beach all day. On special occasions, that is. We are also very hard working people. With agriculture as one of the nation's main forms of income, it's not uncommon be surrounded by garden plots and plants that were alive before you were.

Grapefruit ready to be picked
A local Seville Orange

Grapefruit, Orange, Mango and Carambola are some of the fruits that bear right before the Caribbean 'dry' season; six months of little rain and plenty sunshine.

Local Five Finger or Carambola
Carambola blossoms

Being able to eat what you grow is awesome and cultivating in a pollutant, chemical, pesticide free environment should not be taken for granted.
Still looking for the name of this exotic plant

Local Julie Mango

Experimenting with plants that are not traditionally grown in your area is a good way to challenge yourself. Take fig for instance. No, not Green Fig or Green Banana. The fig that you may hear in American Christmas songs. The fig of the Fig Newtons pastry. Yup, that one. Although it doesn't bear much, its fruit is still very sweet and tasty.

Common fig
The Caribbean June Plum tree has already lost its leaves, but the fruit hang on for dear life. Watch out guys! Dry season has no mercy.

Caribbean June plums need some more hanging time

Finally, can you guess what late Christmas presents I received from my parents? Sorrel and Pigeon peas, yaye! Cooked, you say? My parents had a good laugh and I was promptly put to shelling and cutting. Sorrel cutting is quite the task.

Freshly harvested sorrel
Removing the calyx

Red fingers are evidence of hard work
Don't worry, it's not blood. Simply red sorrel stains that promise sorrel juice which I must now leave you to prepare. Take a look at the video to see sorrel cutting, step by step.


Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Mommy taught me: Frozen Mango Delight

A mango tree is a gift that keeps on giving and giving. If you don't own a couple trees (it's rare to have just one), then most likely your neighbour does, or your neighbour's neighbour. There is always more than enough to feed the entire community, but at the end of the day, that doesn't stop us fighting over mangoes.

However, if you are tired of the generic 'mango sucking' then Mango ice cream is an easy way to spice things up and since it's homemade, any variety of mango is welcome. For this recipe, we'll use local Julie mango, which contrary to hairy belief, has a very potent mango flavor and thick creamy texture to perfect this frozen snack.

Frozen Mango Delight

6 ripe medium-sized Julie mangoes, yields 4 cups mango puree
1 ripe medium-sized Ceylon mango, diced for chunky character
11/2 cups sweetened condensed milk 
1 cup whipping cream
1 tsp lime zest
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cardamon, equivalent to 5 seeds
1 tsp vanilla
a pinch of salt

1. Peel and cut mango flesh into pieces. Puree in a blender and then using a strainer, separate the 'hairs' from the puree. 
It's easier if done bit by bit

This hair ball could make or break your ice cream

The result is a smooth, creamy texture
2. Place mango puree in a large bowl and gently stir in condensed milk. Taste at various intervals to ensure that its sweetness is to your liking. Try not to let the milk overpower the mango. 

3. In a separate bowl, whisk whipping cream and vanilla for about 5 minutes until soft peaks form.

4. Gently stir mango mixture, lemon zest, ginger, cardamon and salt into whipping cream until smooth and even.

5. Place in the freezer for about 5 hours or until semi hard. Blend again for a couple seconds and  fold in diced mango. Freeze overnight.

6. Serve yourself some creamy goodness.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Bite me: Bakery obsessions

I mentioned previously my deep, unending love for baked goods so it was only inevitable that this would happen...The ultimate pastry blog post. Here are some of my favorites:

Local cinnabon
Old habits of eating pastries while studying die hard. The rich, creamy icing of the cinnamon roll is just the sugar rush I need to keep at the books.

Cheese roll
Cheese roll features a cheese filling flavored with oregano and thyme. They could reinvent the wheel as much as they wish but it never gets better than this.

Meat Loaf
When I need something a little heavier, I go for a meat loaf filled with salami, tomato sauce and cheese. My taste buds are never disappointed.

Good old Currant Roll
Currant roll is one European pastry that has stood the test of time. Thick pastry is balanced with juicy dried currants.

More pastries coming soon!

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Travelling Nutmeg: Sea grapes and almonds

Sun hits the shore
Growing up next a beach is one of the many blessings as a kid. Despite the time away, my skin's candid familiarity to the sea water is astonishing. With each crinkle of sand, my entire body was at peace.

A view of the capital city
While waiting on the pot of oil down, we kids would make sand balls, chase each other around and then skin up the Sea Grape trees (Coccoloba uvifera) to see what fruit could fill our famished tummies.

This kind of grape is more seed than flesh, so we had to consume many of the pebble-sized berries. The tangy-sweet fruit combined with salt from the sea sprays must have given us more energy, for soon we would be engaged in a war with the naked seeds as our cannons until we worked up our appetite once more. Had this been summer vacation, you would have seen many pictures of ripe fruit. I found these hidden behind some leaves.

Sweet sea grapes
But with a view like this, the scarcity of sea grapes were the least of my problems.

Blessed Morning indeed!
Another old friend is the Sea Almond tree. The (Terminalia catappa) were and still are at least 100 ft tall. Without a stone, the birds enjoy all the purple flesh. That leaves me with the work of cracking open the husk to get to the seed.

Different parts of the almond tree are known for many medicinal properties which you can read about at In the meantime, I'm enjoying the most natural property of all: filtered sunshine.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Bite me: French Cashew

I plopped down into Grenada smack dab in the middle of Mango and French Cashew season. Talk about good timing!
Freshly picked French Cashew
Cashew Apple or English Cashew (local names from our colonial days) is a fleshy fruit that carries a nut embedded at its base. In Grenada, and I'm sure in other parts of the world, there are many species of the Anacardium occidentale. Presently, the 'nutless' version, known as French Cashew (fries aren't the only thing the French stole), is at the height of its season, sold on every sidewalk and bursting from every tree. A sweet, ripe cashew can more or less be guaranteed by a rich, royal red skin. The occasional poke from a bird is not only further confirmation of ripeness, but a warning that if you don't eat it, he will.

The mouth-puckering taste that accompanies the sweetness of the cashew is called astringent. Its presence in food usually indicates a rich antioxidant and vitamin C content. Polyphenols such as tannins are found in the skin and are linked cancer prevention, reduction of colon inflammation, detoxing and through its diuretic properties, cardiovascular health.  One cup of Cashew apple can provide at least twice as much Vitamin C needed in one day.  Look out for Vitamin B, Carotene, Iron, Calcium and Phosphorus.  Cashew is also high in soluble and insoluble fiber which helps you to feel full after meals and eases bowel movement.

Some cultures make cashew juice, liquor, stews and candies. The possibilities are many. In the Spice Isle, we eat till we belly full and till d season done. In conclusion, this is a well known fruit should not be taken for granted. Eat it while you can, to a healthier tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Bite me: Top 10 train travel food essentials

I get so excited when it's time to travel; plane, train, boat whatever it may be. My current trip began with a train ride of 24 hours. Nope, there was no way around it. So instead of complaining about the fact that I won't get to flirt with a handsome air host, I made preparations for a comfortable ride and that obviously meant carrying things that made my tummy happy. With the help of my friends and the experiences of previous train excursions, I gathered a bunch of traditional and maybe not so traditional travel food essentials for the long journey ahead.    

10. Fast food: KFC, Mc Donalds, pick your poison. It's easy to find and easy to purchase. The greasy nature also keeps you full for sometime.

9. Crackers and cookies: Salty and sweet, feeds the kid in you and keeps the cravings at bay

8. Cake and candy: Like above, great for cravings and great conversation starters too.

7.Canned soup or congee (rice porridge): A popular breakfast dish that is also available in the convenience of a can and many flavors. The tin heated in hot water to make the contents appetizing.

6. Fresh fruit: Oranges, apples, kumquats keep the body's metabolism a constant boost which works against the sluggish feeling of long travel.

5. Duck meat: I can't remember a trip where I have not been offered a leg of rotisserie duck..and it tastes goooooddd...

4. Preserved meat: Beef strips, chicken feet or dried tofu are all fan favorites. I believe these are the cheese curls of the Chinese snack world.

3. Sunflower seeds: Every passenger can be seen with a mountain of empty shells before them because the monotony of cracking them matches that of the train ride, that it passes idle time well. The saltiness also helps to lessen trips to the bathroom.

2. Convenient noodles: Complete with vegetables, sauces, seasonings in a ready-to-eat bowl, all you need to add is hot water and dinner is served.

1. Water bottle (summer) or flask (winter): These may be filled with plain water or tea and will be constantly refreshed as the journey goes on.

Have you ever had a long distance journey? What are some of your food essentials?

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Bite me: Sweet Potatoes and Yoghurt (Tanzania Edition)

Today we visit the beautiful country Tanzania of Southeast Africa. I adore their chicken pilau, chips mayai (potato chips fried in egg), and general approach to cooking. The food's natural flavor is prominent with little flavor embellishments and enhancement. When I am eating, I taste the vegetables and meats for what they truly are, not seasoning-covered potential. It is a welcome relief to my palette to eat with my Tanzanian brothers and sisters, who by the way, are some of the warmest, kindest people I have ever met.

I was introduced to the possibility of eating homemade yoghurt with sweet potatoes. Being intrigued and apprehensive at the same time, the sampling conversation when something like this:

Friend: Try a little and tell me what you think
Me (looking at spoon in hand): I don't know about this combination.
Me (finally putting spoon in mouth): Why would you guys eat this together?
Me ( putting another spoon in mouth): I don't get it.
Me (one empty bowl later): So next week, I bring the yoghurt and you bring the potatoes, okay?

My friend laughed at me the whole time. Although I didn't understand the dish, my taste buds some how appreciated it. I want to eat it all the time. It's now part of the scared-meals-thou-shalt-not-add-store-bought-ingredients-to.

In terms of nutrition, sweet potatoes are high in fiber among other things mentioned here. Yoghurt provides protein, calcium and healthy bacteria for a smooth running intestine. So if you have this for dinner, your entire body will thank you. You're welcome in advance.

This is my last post from China for a bit...Can someone say HOLIDAYS!?!...So see you soon from a new location!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

真的吗?:New year, New food?

Happy New Year to each and everyone of you. Thank you for accompanying me on this journey in 2013. I hope and pray that 2014 will bring many more wonderful food-related opportunities my way to share with you.
Unfinished noodle soup

Watermelon and Cheese is a true reflection of what I eat, so you are probably wondering how I survived such a circus diet. At first, it started as 'when in China, eat like the Chinese'. That meant you needed to master efficient chopstick use. I am still working on that but once you have worked so hard to put it in your mouth, you should eat it right?

The island girl spirit of 'never see, come see' also contributed to active sampling of new foods. And yes there were instances of upset stomach but my Antiguan brothers taught me well. Try it THREE times to confirm that particular thing made you sick. With the exception of Black Fungus 木耳 Muer  (apparently I am allergic),  either something else was the culprit or my tummy grew in resilience. Safe to say this method is more effective than the three second rule.

Black Fungus 木耳
Lastly, the only way I could truly adapt to a place so far away from home is by understanding their culture. Every food choice made by the Chinese is backed by a world of reason. I have learnt to trust that and found myself becoming healthier and happier. So this year, I will break down any remaining walls of fear and doubt. Look forward to many more hair-raising, appetite-awakening foods coming your way.