Wednesday, December 30, 2009
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.
This post is part of Wanderlust and Lipstick's Wanderfood Wednesdays, go over and check out the other treats from around the world.
Sunday, December 27, 2009
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
No Christmas season celebration is complete without Santa and the jolly Junkanoo participant above delivers a totally Bahamian version of St. Nick. Happy Holidays to everyone!
Saturday, December 19, 2009
Monday, December 14, 2009
Monday, December 7, 2009
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 symbolizes the gentle, friendly spirit of the Bahamian people, like these smiling school girls.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
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.
Saturday, November 28, 2009
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 opened and they failed my test miserably. I don't go near any Jamaican place where the staff doesn't know what ackee and saltfish is, which happens to be the national dish. At the persistent urging of my friends, I decided to give Utopia another chance. I scheduled an afternoon lunch interview with Chicago-bred actor and comedian Erica Watson (catch her in the film Precious) and hoped for the best.
Bob Marley singing "Kaya" in the background was a very good sign. Erica ordered the jerk catfish shown above,a specialty created by the executive chef "Papa Jay." Accompanied by a generous helping of rice and peas, plantains and hard dough bread, the spread looked like a hearty Jamaican lunch.
I ordered the classic Jamaican dish, brownstew chicken but when I opened the cute ceramic pot, I was surprised to discover ox tail stew, pictured above. Erica and I immediately discerned the difference but the kitchen prep assistant clearly did not. Since I don't eat red meat, a mistaken nibble of the ox tail could have made me sick. The waitress was aghast and assured me that the chef would come out to rectify things. Well, that's exactly what I was waiting for. Before Papa Jay even opened his mouth, I could tell from his artful stride and bemused expression that he was Jamaican. He apologized and explained that none of his assistants knew the difference between the two dishes but he had prepared my chicken and presented a plate of jerk chicken wings in the meantime. He sat down and that's when our Jamaican meal began. You see, a large part of an authentic Caribbean meal is the conversation. And I don't mean small talk. Papa Jay recalled his life in Ocho Rios, how he met his American wife and offered suggestions on potential love interests for Erica.
By the time my brownstew chicken arrived above, we were all good friends, downing glasses of ginger beer and Ting with healthy does of spicy talk and food. By the time we finished 5 hours later, Papa Jay's work shift was over and waiters were setting out tea lights for dinner. I raced home, happy that I had managed a quick Jamaican visit that didn't involve air fare.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
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 moqueca wafting through the aisles, it was a totally Brazilian experience. The small paintings above reflect the orixas Xango and Oxum, deity of thunder and lightening and beauty and fresh water, respectively. I negotiated and haggled for 30 minutes to get them, they not only represent the importance of the candomble religion in Brazilian culture but also my perseverance!
I really like Oxum and her fly representation of femininity so when I saw this hand-painted shirt in an art gallery, I was thrilled. Then I discovered they didn't take credit cards and left disappointed, only to discover that Claudia, my candomble historian, surprised me with it at the end of my trip. I think of Bahia and Claudia whenever I wear it.
As you've probably noticed, candomble and its orixas play a significant role in Brazilian culture. References of this African based, syncretic religion pop up everywhere,from music to clothing. Brought from Africa over 350 years ago, forms of candomble have sprouted all over the African Diaspora. Ancient Yoruba deities were melded with catholic saints so that uprooted Africans could continue their spiritual practices in the face of persecution. The deities or orixas, all have corresponding saints, colors and days of the week. In candomble, Saint Joan of Arc becomes Oba, the fearless fighter, Saint Lazarus is Omulu, deity of healing and Saint Michael is Logun, deity of polarity.
Everywhere I went in Brazil, in restaurants, airports, shops and bookstores, I observed elements of candomble. T-shirts with images of all the orixas sell in boutiques and corner stores. Restaurants, key chains and bronze statues of Imenja, the mermaid deity of the ocean, appear wherever there is a body of water. Even the all-important soccer teams have their own orixas. Despite candomble being outlawed for much of the 20th century, the religion remains a visible part of Brazilian culture. I bought this t-shirt showcasing the 12 main orixas for my husband and I think of how entrenched they are in Brazilian culture every time he wears it.
These doll magnets represent Iansa, deity of the wind in pink and Nana, deity of swamps and unfathomable wisdom in purple. I snapped them up at Mercado Modelo where these cute magnets and key chains were piled into every stall. They both overlook my kitchen, peering out from my refrigerator, overshadowing all the other magnets.
I collect crystals and stones and I was immediately drawn to the vivid rose hue of this pink quartz. Brazil boasts lots of mines so precious and semi-precious stones sparkle everywhere. I bargained for this quartz at the mercado and now it sits on my desk, reminding me of Brazil's natural beauty. How do you feel about shopping while traveling and what kinds of souvenirs do you look for?
Saturday, November 21, 2009
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 fans, there's never ending displays of handcrafted drums, flutes and berimbaus, the traditional stringed instrument played during capoeira. This pile of drums was just one of many creative arrangements that I saw.
Ceremonial masks are also popular at the Mercado. Some were imported from Africa and some were carved in Brazil, in honor of various orixas or deities.
Because the African/Brazilian religion of candomble permeates every aspect of daily Brazilian life, figurines and statues of candomble orixas are found everywhere. Here, Xango, deity of thunder and Yemanja, deity of the sea, tempt art lovers and candomble worshippers alike.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
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.