Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Black Cake, Sorrel and New Year's Wishes

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 leaves are mixed with ginger, cinnamon and other spices for a refreshing holiday drink. Any proper  holiday visit to a Caribbean house always involves a slice of black cake and a glass of sorrel or ginger beer. Tasting these treats  almost guarantees a happy and fulfilling new year, which is my wish for all of my readers, even if you don't get a chance to sample black cake and sorrel!

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

Kicking Back With Kalik

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 school.

The most ubiquitous beverage that I saw locals sipping everywhere, from bars to beaches, was Kalik, the national beer. Pronounced (ca Lick), it's named for the sound that Goombay bells make during Junkanoo. Almost like  they were making a point of cultural pride, whenever I saw Bahamians relaxing, a Kalik was typically nearby. It tastes light and zesty and makes a good relaxation aid. What's your favorite way to relax?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Junkanoo: A Bahamian Style Holiday Celebration

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 overall presentation. The winning costumes are preserved for display in the Junkanoo Museum in Nassau.

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

Harbour Island Hallmarks

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 morning. They had just sold their last loaf when I arrived at 10AM.

This doesn't look like the American chain's logo because its Harbour Island's own take on a grocery store, complete with fresh conch and sapodillas (close to a custard apple.) . I couldn't figure out what a violin-playing pig has to do with groceries but glimpsing the sign from my golf cart made me laugh.

The vibrant colors of this boutique also called for a golf cart stop. The store is filled with so many clothes, books and trinkets that it did inspire me to dilly dally for a lot longer than I expected.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Cooking Up Conch Salad on Harbour Island

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.  Bahamians love conch any kind of way, including conch fritters, cracked conch, conch burgers and conch chowder. The conch is reputed to be an aphrodesiac and is consumed so often that its considered an endagered species throughout the Caribbean. This doesn't stop Harbrour Island natives however, they swear that conch salad is the best way to enjoy their diet staple.
This post is part of Wander Food Wednesdays. Check out the other taste sensations around the world.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Pretty in Pink

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

Next Stop: Eleuthera

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.