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Showing posts from 2009

Black Cake, Sorrel and New Year's Wishes

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For my Creole family, New Year's always involved gumbo, souse, black-eyed peas and turnip greens. I'd have nothing to do with any of these, save the greens because in New Year's lore, the peas represent the coins you'll recieve in the new year and the greens symbolize the dollars and who doesn't want more dollars? Once I discovered the Caribbean New Year's tradition of black cake, and sorrel, I added these delicacies to my New Year's meal. An evoulution of the English plum pudding, black cake is similar to fruit cake only more moist and with ground up fruit.  The fruit is soaked for months in rum, sometimes even a year and the mixed with spices, molasses and brown sugar. It's heavy and fragrant and I confess that I eat it all year round, not just on New Year's. Sorrell is a spicy, vibrant red drink made from the hand-picked sepal of the sorrell or roselle plant, which is a species of hibiscus. I also drink it all year round. Traditionally, the le

Kicking Back With Kalik

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It's the middle of the holiday season and after four straight days ( Christmas Eve, Christmas, birthday, Kwanzaa)  of celebrating, I'm finally relaxing. For me, that means a book, music and a cup of tea.  My relaxation ritual made me remember how I observed the locals unwinding on Eleuthera and Harbour Island. Despite the popularity and common association with tourists, I never saw a native Bahamian touch a Bahama Mama  or Yellow Bird cocktail. Instead, I saw them relaxing at cafes, eating conch fritters and drinking tea, coconut water or Goombay Punch.  Forget Coke or Pepsi, the go to soda in the Bahamas is the  sweet, bubbly, red, Goombay Punch. I've heard the taste described as a pineapple Life Saver and that pretty much sums it up except I think its a lot more refreshing. Another alternative for a quick break is Goombay Fruit Champagne. It's less sweet than the punch and tastes like cream soda. I saw school children drinking cans of this walking home from sc

Junkanoo: A Bahamian Style Holiday Celebration

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Christmas in the Bahamas means family, feasting and Junkanoo. A spectacular festival of dancing, music and colorful costumed people, Junkanoo represents the essence of Bahamian culture. Held on Boxing Day (December 26, my B-Day!) and New Year's Day (January 1) from 2AM until dawn,  the celebration features meticulously designed costumes worn by groups of 500-1000. Revelers dress and dance according to a top secret theme revealed only on Junkanoo Day.  Music makes up the most significant and distinctive aspect of Junkanoo.  The ryhthms of goatskin drums (Goombay,) copper cow bells and whistles, accompanied  by a brass section drive the frentic and joyful atmosphere of the festival. Costumes can take close to a year to complete and typically include an elaborate headress, shoulder and skirt. Most of the designs are created from crepe paper intricately glued to fabric, cardboard or wood. Groups compete for cash prizes in the categories of  best costume, best music and best o

Harbour Island Hallmarks

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Harbour Island brims with charm on every inch of the three and half mile paradise. Even the roads are quaint because you won't find many cars instead, golf carts represent the  most popular Harbour Island transportation choice. You can rent tiny two seaters or roomy four seaters like the one I'm riding above, to zip around to see the island highlights. Along the narrow streets you'll see scores of golf carts lining the curbs. Sometimes, so many of the little carts cram the roads that that they appear to outnumber Harbour Island's population of 2,000 and actually take on human characteristics. To me, the carts above look like a couple in a face off. The golf carts offer the perfect way to absorb the island's personality and see hallmark's up close. This might look like a cute cottage but it's actually one of Harbour Islands's most popular businesses, Arthur's Bakery.  People crowd the shop to score golden, buttery, coconut bread every m

Cooking Up Conch Salad on Harbour Island

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Conch salad  fittingly represents the breezy, easygoing Bahamian lifestyle and you will find the delicacy everywhere on Harbour Island, the tiny island two miles East of Eleuthera. Located along the waterfront, Queen Conch is the Harbour Island headquarters for a daily dose of fresh conch salad. A conch (konk) is a mollusk that's basically a marine snail.. First the insides are scooped out of the rosy shell. A special knife is used to scrape the wiggling meat out of the shell, which sometimes hides large pink pearls. The basic ingredients for a conch salad are tomato, onion, green pepper, lime juice and at Queen Conch, sour orange juice, which is a cross between a lime and an orange.  A special pepper sauce is also added for a zesty kick. A large knife is used to swiftly cut up all the ingredients before your eyes. Then the salad is scooped into a plastic container with a spoon. Conch salad is refreshing and mild, it tastes like a chewier verion of ceviche.  Bah

Pretty in Pink

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One of the first things that I discovered in Eleuthera was that pink shows up on more than just its sandy shores. In fact, I found that the sand wasn't a true pink at all but really specks of pink washed with white, pictured above, under my pink toe nails. Although I dutifully scooped a bottle of the sand for my pink sand collection, I was disappointed that it wasn't a deeper shade of pink. But after a few days, I realized that pink dominates the island's color spectrum and accurately reflects Eleuthera's calm, cheery vibe. First I was greeted by North Eleuthera's rosy-hued airport. Then I was drawn in by pops of berry-colored blooms lined by a lavender fence. Then I spotted a pastel pink church. And I was tempted to lounge in cotton-candy-colored lawn furniture. Most significantly, the signature conch shells that dot the beaches and supply the basis for the famed conch salad, add a serene pink glow everywhere you turn. Most of all, the pink s

Next Stop: Eleuthera

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I'm headed for a press trip to Eleuthera, (El Loo thra) a Bahamian out island famous for its quiet beauty. Pink sand beaches are another Eleuthera claim to fame and you know how I love pink sand. I'll be delving into the history and culture of this 110 miles long island, which was the first European settlement in the Bahamas. I plan to take in bone fishing, a weekly fish fry jump up and hang out at Elvina's, the legendary beach side bar noted for Lenny Kravitz jam sessions. I'll be gone for the rest of the week but expect dreamy Eleuthera updates by next week.

Taste Trippin' Part Four

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It's November in Chicago. This is the time my mind turns to thoughts of island life, not that it doesn't most times but now is when I really focus. So I grabbed a quick excursion to Jamaica. Of course, I'm not talking about a physical jaunt but a gastronomical trip to the South Loop's Utopia International Caribbean Cuisine. Outfitted in rich tapestries and bordeaux velvet sofas, the place doesn't conjure up any images of Jamaica at all. That's because it used to be an upscale tapas lounge. That concept apparently didn't work for them so a few months ago they switched to Jamaican fare. Now, as you'd expect, I'm pretty particular when it comes to Jamaican food. All the jerk chicken joints that populate this city do not necessarily qualify as authentic Jamaican cuisine. I have my criteria and my check list that an eatery must pass before I'll try them but mostly I send my Caribbean friends to scout it out. I called Utopia personally when they open

Bahia Bounty

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I've never been a fan of shopping as a travel activity. Generally, I'm quite allergic to shopping malls, department stores and the special hell that's called warehouse clubs. I don't experience any pleasure from wading through mounds of generic, mass produced merchandise and I despise it even more in another country. If it isn't distinctive and doesn't reflect the nuances of the culture, what's the point? You can probably buy it anywhere. Now an outdoor market, on the other hand, offers the sights and sounds of a particular country as well as the experience of bargaining and bartering. Once in the Dominican Republic, a vendor admired my husband's yellow polo shirt and he exchanged it for an ebony sculpture. Whenever I look at that sculpture, I remember the story of how we gained it. In Bahia, the vibrant culture shines through everything, including the Mercado Modelo. From the capoeiristas chanting and kicking outside, to the smell of sea and moquec

Browsing through Bahia's Mercado Modelo

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I think the term "shop til you drop" was created with Bahia's Mercado Modelo in mind. Over 300 handicraft stalls cram three levels, along with a colorful collection of bars and restaurants. Although the Mercado is filled with authentic Bahian culture, from baianas selling acaraje , to capoeira performed at the entrance, the place was clearly created for tourists. So it you're like me and can't stand to go near any silly tourist traps, don't pass up the Mercado. You'll have to haggle and the sheer number of souvenirs, along with huge crowds and echoing noise is overwhelming but its worth the experience. The paintings reveal a riot of vivid colors and talent. Most of the vendors aren't aggressive and you can browse without being harassed. I think it helped that I was mistaken for a local Baiana, even though my Portuguese is horrifying. I haggled for two small orixa paintings that now hang triumphantly in my hallway. For music and instrument fa

Bom Dia From Brazil

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Brazilian creativity is legendary, fresh ideas and innovations just seem to flow with the ease of samba on a sunny day. So you think Brazilians would speak on ordinary public phones? Please. Brazilian phone booths are called orelhao (big ear) because of the function and rounded shape but they hardly resemble anything close to a boring, old phone. In Bahia, I was excited to see phone booths looking like big, green apples but that wasn't all. Some perched on corners in the form of gigantic swans. Others beckoned with the bright petals of the sunflower. Or the imposing beauty of the rose. And this duck character, I can't explain who he is, probably the cooler, more stylish (check out the carefully coordinated hat) cousin of Daffy.